City officials consider rental inspection program in Knoxville

KNOXVILLE — City officials are considering a rental inspection program for landlords who rent out property in Knoxville.

Knoxville City Council held a work session to discuss adopting new city codes for a rental inspection program Monday evening. The program is designed to provide safe and sanitary housing for residents by establishing minimum standards and regular inspections for all rental housing units in the city.

Knoxville Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Mettee says rental inspections are an issue the department has been considering for some time. The department has been working closely with the City of Oskaloosa to mirror their codes and regulations.

A current draft for the program proposes all rental housing units within Knoxville will need to be registered in order to operate within the city, pass an inspection every three years, be evaluated for compliance with existing city code and have the opportunity to be re-inspected if issues are identified in the initial inspection

Registration is proposed to cost $60 per building, plus $15 per unit annually. An inspection criteria checklist will be given to landlords so they know items that will be inspected and will include a formal process to address tenant complaints.

Some of the key building components that will be inspected to ensure they are safe and workable include the foundation, roof, chimney, siding, windows, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, floors, doors, locks, ceilings, plumbing, electrical and mechanical.

The inspection will also ensure rental properties do not have rodent or insect infestations, roof or plumbing leaks, fire hazards, serious structural issues and accumulated junk/unmaintained yards.

“We feel that these are very reasonable requests,” says City Manager Aaron Adams. “Again, it just keeps going back to that issue of the safety of the occupants.”

On the other hand, landlord Rick Van Donselaar believes tenants will use the city as a “complaint department” if a program is implemented.

“It’s not fun being a landlord,” says Van Donselaar. “They’re going to use you as a complaint department when we ask for our rent … I think you’re opening up for liability. What I mean is if your inspector comes and inspects it and there happens to be a fault, or should a place catch on fire, I think the city is opening themselves up for liability. I’ve had terrible situations with cigarettes, and the list goes on and on.”

The city plans to hire a third party for inspections and is currently considering Jason Van Ausdall, owner and operator of Iowa Inspections. The City of Oskaloosa also uses Van Ausdall’s services.

“Our expectation would be to have Jason directly bill landlords so the city does not actually have money pass through its hands in that regard,” says Adams. “Our expectation for Jason is that we provide a list of these properties, and he goes and does the inspections.”

Adams went on to say the City of Oskaloosa currently charges a minimum of $15 per unit for city administrative work associated with the program, which could also be implemented.

The city plans to present an outline of the proposed codes and regulations for approval during the July 6 city council meeting. Adams also anticipates holding meetings with landlords and VanAusdall in conjunction with the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce before the program is officially implemented.

In other news:

- Council discussed a new amendment that would prohibit camping hookups within city limits, unless the property is zoned within the Agricultural District and has a minimum of five acres. Camping will still be permitted on residential and commercial lots during Knoxville Nationals and other major races and will not change how camping is handled during Nationals. The proposed amendment would simply prevent the installation of permanent electrical, water and sewer hookups for camping within city limits. A public hearing is set for the July 6 city council meeting.

- Council approved a 2% sanitary user increase, which Adams says is about a 60-70 cent increase per month for residents. Effective July 1, the user charge per 1,000 gallons will be $7.05, and the base charge will be $22.89. An additional 2% increase will be implemented in 2023.

- Council discussed the possible implementation of commercial and residential design guidelines in Knoxville. A public hearing has been set for the July 6 city council meeting to discuss the proposed guidelines.

Emily Hawk can be reached at 641-672-2581 or by email at ehawk@oskyherald.com.

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