Landlords On The Hot Seat | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Landlords On The Hot Seat

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A meeting over a proposed landlord ordinance (PDF, 92K) got testy when supporters of tenants' rights butted heads with a coalition of landlords in council chambers last Thursday.

The Jackson City Council voted to send the proposed ordinance into committee earlier this year. The new ordinance, devised and championed by neighborhood advocacy group ACORN, seeks to enforce existing housing codes and impose new fees on landlords who allow their property to fall below standards.

"This ordinance holds absentee landlords accountable," said ACORN Chairwoman Diana Barnes-Pate. "It holds accountable landlords who do nothing but collect rent and who do nothing to preserve the condition of the property. We brought it before the council because similar ordinances have helped other cities across the country."

Barnes-Pate said the real muscle behind the ordinance is the hefty fines, or "permission fees" for renting property found to be in violation of city codes. The permission fee is $300, and $500 annually after that. Also, before the property comes out of probation, the owner must attend (city-financed) classes on maintaining property in the city.

"The fee is the real teeth of this ordinance," Barnes-Pate said. "Nobody wants to pay this fine."

Under the ordinance, property can be in violation if it fails housing codes either during or before occupancy. The owner can also be cited for failure to repair, vacate or demolish a dwelling as commanded by the city, for housing more inhabitants than permitted by zoning laws, failure to comply in a "timely manner" to citations regarding unlawful storage of two or more dismantled automotive vehicles on the premises, unlawful storage of trash and debris, or failure to comply with the recent "crack" drug house abatement ordinance adopted in September, among other violations.

The ordinance places property in violation on probation before the landlord can rent the property out—with a non-refundable probation application fee of $200. If the property qualifies for probation, the permit for renting costs another $300 for the first year of the permit. If the property remains on probation the following year, the fee for rental increases to $500.

Landlords like West Jackson business owner Will Chambliss spoke out against the ordinance, calling it an extra tax.

"The city is raising taxes, and the county is raising taxes, so how much more can a landlord stand? There's too much burden put on the landlord," Chambliss said, adding that the ordinance unfairly targets small rental unit landlords over big apartment complexes.

"They're excluding big apartment buildings, and that's not correct," Chambliss argued.

The ordinance defines a "dwelling" as "a … unit used for residential purposes, except a bed and breakfast, inn, hotel … tourist home, or an apartment house or an apartment complex, with not more than (4) dwelling units."

Dixon Lindsay, who also owns property in West Jackson, said the ordinance puts all the burden on the landlord and none on the tenant. Lindsay, after pointing out that a majority of ACORN members are renters, said he was perplexed that City Council might support such a "foolish" ordinance.

"The Residential Landlord/Tenant Act, passed back in 1991, is really what needs to be enforced. They're always pointing out that the poor tenant has no recourse. That's a lie. If the tenant follows the dictate of the Landlord/Tenant Act, he could notify the landlord of any problem … then the landlord could either correct the problem, or if they don't correct it within a specified period of time, the tenant could take the money out of his rent to fix the problem themselves," Lindsay said.

Barnes-Pate said that landlords had no need to worry about the ordinance if they kept their property up to specs.

"Surprisingly, all the people arguing against the ordinance also claim they keep their property up to code, but if they keep their property up to code anyhow, what's the harm to them in passing this ordinance? I think this is a complaint about being regulated. People who rent property will, under this ordinance, be regulated as to the conditions of their property. … If I'm a person who enjoys speeding in Jackson, I can't complain when I get a ticket," she said.

Lindsay said his property is always up to code before occupancy, but complains that tenants routinely bring it below specs within months after moving in.

"The moment a tenant walks in, he can break a window or tear up the linoleum moving a refrigerator or stove and—guess what—that's a potential violation," Lindsay said, while offering a plan that he said would help the city better mediate landlord/tenant disputes.

Lindsay's plan recommends that the city instead assemble a housing board, containing two representatives of each ward, which would directly address individual landlord/tenant squabbles. Lindsay also suggested that the city provide liaison officers to handle tenant property crimes, reduce mercury test and house inspection fees, impose code enforcement equally upon non-profit dwellings like Habitat for Humanity homes, offer tax breaks to encourage repairs and renovation and cease referring to vacant homes as "abandoned."

Previous Comments

ID
66946
Comment

When the landlords start installing webcams all over their properties so that they can better inspect their properties from a distance, I wonder if ACORN will start raising hell about violating their right to privacy? Maybe they won't place on in the bedroom but one on the porch, one in the kitchen, it will be tried by someone and written up into the lease so that there is nothing a tenant can do about it. I wonder what ACORN will do if the landlords start monitoring their property more closely and fining the tenants for damage that has occurred to the property caused by the tenats and their guests? I can also imagine the hell that will be raised if the landlords start requiring renters insurance of all renters.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-10-22T10:34:40-06:00
ID
66947
Comment

Actually, the fee is $500 the first year as well, Adam. There is a $200.00 application fee in addition to the permitting fee. Niles.

Author
Niles Hooper
Date
2006-10-23T12:32:21-06:00
ID
66948
Comment

Thanks for the comment, Niles, but I think Adam is right. I posted a link to the ordinance above. If you look on page 4, section 2, subsections b and c, it appears that the application fee is $200. Then the first year of the rental permit is $300, and the second year is $500. Am I reading this wrong?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-23T14:33:47-06:00
ID
66949
Comment

Huh, I think thats right, but thats $500 bucks for each year, right, whether you call it an application fee plus permit fee, or just a permit fee? Its $500 per year, right? 200+300 = 500 for the first year. The next year its $500, right. So why the distinction? Did I miss the part about any of it being refundable?

Author
Niles Hooper
Date
2006-10-23T20:42:45-06:00
ID
66950
Comment

Also, Thanks for the link, this looks like the same version I looked at before. The permitting period is two years, there is no "if you have to permit for the second year." By the terms of the ordinance its a minimum of two years, right? Niles.

Author
Niles Hooper
Date
2006-10-23T20:48:32-06:00
ID
66951
Comment

But you wouldn't have to apply for a second year of rental permit if you no longer wanted to rent the property, would you?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-10-23T22:37:12-06:00

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