City of Knoxville moves forward with rental inspection program

KNOXVILLE — City officials continue to inch closer to implementing a rental inspection program in Knoxville, but not without push back from local landlords.

Knoxville City Council heard public comments regarding new city codes for a rental inspection program, which has been the subject of discussion for over a year.

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, says City Manager Aaron Adams. Knoxville Planning and Zoning has been working closely with the City of Oskaloosa to mirror their codes and regulations.

The city plans to hire Jason Van Ausdall, owner and operator of Iowa Inspections, as a third-party inspector. The City of Oskaloosa also uses Van Ausdall’s services.

However, local landlords voiced concerns about the program. Landlord William Mendenhall says tenants’ living conditions are up to them and is not just the responsibility of property owners. He also says there’s a difference between enforcing regulations around aesthetics versus safe, functional living conditions.

"If you look at the clientele that you base everything off of, I do have great tenants,” says Mendenhall. “I have some tenants that paint things on their own. I have some tenants that do improvements on their own. But then I have some tenants that just tear the crap out of everything.”

Mendenhall says he has had two tenants in the past year who have caused damages that cost more to fix than what the tenants paid in total for a year’s rent.

“By the time you figure insurance and taxes on it, you’re not making any money on this thing. It’s a matter of the clientele, it’s not about the landlord. I want to make that clear,” says Mendenhall.

Landlord Randy Cartwright with Oak Valley Properties is concerned about annual inspection fees and additional property requirements.

“We’re going to be spending a lot of money to get our properties up to these requirements that this third party inspection company wants us to do, which is above and beyond what Section 8 housing requires,” says Cartwright. “It hits our bottom line, and it’s going to make it really hard for us to provide affordable housing. Obviously we’re going to have to raise rents to cover the costs of all of the additional things we have to do … it’s going to be pretty expensive for landlords in town to bring these 50- to 100-year-old homes up to the standard that this inspection company is requiring.”

Building components that will be inspected include 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 a rodent or insect infestations, roof or plumbing leaks, fire hazards, serious structural issues and accumulated junk/unmaintained yards.

“I have a rental property as well, so we’re not unsympathetic to this,” says council member Dylan Morse. “It’s going to cost me money just like it’s going to cost everybody else money to bring some of these items into compliance. But it’s about more than just me and my bottom line, your bottom line … do we need to be aware and sensitive to that, absolutely, but I think we also need to look at what this does for the community as a whole.”

According to council member Megan Suhr, research from the past three years shows 77% of landlords pass rental inspections on the first round, and 91% pass on the second round.

“We have to have a code to actually have some of those details worked out,” says Suhr. “But, it looks like it’s worked really well in other communities.”

The new city code states rental properties will have to pass an inspection every three years. Council adopted the ordinance with “changes to come.”

“This will lay out the foundation for this rental inspection program,” says Adams. “This gives the legs to do a rental inspection as provided for by Iowa Code. This would lay that out there, and I think it’s important to get it started. We’re talking about a one-year time frame, and we’ve already been discussing this for a year … I think it’s important for us to get this process started.”

Now that a foundation is in place, the council and the Planning and Zoning Department will collaborate to work through and finalize guidelines, rules and other details.

In other news:

- After public comment, the council did not take action on an ordinance that would prohibit camping hookups within city limits. According to the ordinance, 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 prevent the installation of permanent electrical, water and sewer hookups for camping within city limits. However, the council and the Planning and Zoning Department will discuss and address questions raised from the public before considering an ordinance.

- Council approved a new code that establishes building materials and design guidelines in Knoxville for multiple commercial zoning districts.

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

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