St. Clair’s rental occupancy permit program is in full swing as the city’s building department is hard at work bringing landlords up to speed and properties up to code.
Building Inspector Jeremy Crowe provided a detailed report to the board of aldermen last week outlining the permit program and where it stands in relation to registrations and inspections.
“The program has been going well (and) inspections are taking place regularly,” Crowe said. “Landlords are getting used to the process.”
In late 2012, aldermen passed an ordinance establishing the new rental occupancy program. It gave landlords almost a year to register their properties and have their buildings be in compliance.
The adoption date was Nov. 5. Compliance with the ordinance was voluntary until Oct. 1, 2013, at which time it became mandatory.
According to his records, Crowe said St. Clair currently has 894 total rental units.
The local rental properties include homes, senior housing, mobile homes and apartments. At the time his report was compiled, 805 were registered, or about 90 percent.
“During the period between Nov. 5, 2012, and Oct. 1, 2013, inspections were completed on a voluntary basis if requested by the property owner,” Crowe said. “Inspections became mandatory after Oct. 1, 2013, prior to a new tenant occupying the property.
“Any rental property owner who does not currently have their rental properties registered is in violation of city ordinances.”
Ordinance language states that failure to obey the regulations could result in financial penalties of up to $100 per day.
“The ones who are not currently registered will be summonsed to court shortly,” Crowe said.
The ordinance basically targets rental units in an effort to upgrade the standards within the city limits. The majority of the updated regulations follow already established city ordinances.
Current minimum housing standards for St. Clair residents are included in Chapter 12-1/2, Article II of the city’s code of ordinances. Those minimum standards include sections on sanitary facilities and conditions; food preparation facilities; living space requirements; heating and cooling requirements; lead-based paint compliance; and structural condition and safety.
Minimum life-safety standards target structural safety, electrical safety, fire safety, carbon monoxide safety and general safety. Those standards are outlined in Chapter 6-61 of the city’s code of ordinances which concern the definition of a dangerous building.
The city also adopted the updated 2009 International Property Maintenance Code.
“Diane Mabry (assistant inspector) has been working vigorously to personally contact rental property owners to make certain that they are aware of the requirements,” Crowe said. “Several mass mailings were completed in 2013 to the last known address of all suspected rental property owners which included information on the program, registration and inspection forms.”
Crowe added that, “Many of the property owners who have registered are now getting used to the program and have complied with all inspection requirements.”
Crowe said that during inspections, some common violations found included the lack of smoke alarms in required areas; lack of carbon monoxide detectors if fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage are present; windows being not operable or won’t stay open for emergency escape and rescue; electrical switch, receptacle and fixture covers not in place; and breakers not labeled in the electrical service panel.
The St. Clair Planning and Zoning Board spent nearly a year discussing and finalizing the occupancy permit program recommendation that was passed by the board of aldermen in late 2012.
Planning board members as well as Crowe have said the main idea behind revising the program is making sure residences are safe for each occupant who lives in them while providing a way for the city to enforce that safety.
As far as the inspections, a $25 fee will be charged for each, and a $5 recording fee will be assessed each time a dwelling changes occupants.
Landlords will need to keep the city’s building department informed of any change in tenants as well as scheduling an inspection if one is needed.
An inspector will examine the interior and exterior of the property for structural soundness as well as the safety issues.
Crowe also said the city has 325 commercial properties, which includes churches. He said 30 of those properties were inspected last year and seven so far this year.
He said common violations in these structures include fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems not working properly, emergency lighting not working properly and the presence of electrical hazards.
“The building department has been working hard at resolving many issues facing our community, while doing its best to move forward with improving code enforcement and permit data processing and management, plan review and preparing and implementing better policies and procedures,” Crowe said to summarize his report.
In his report for the Jan. 20 aldermen meeting, Crowe listed the following rental statistics:
•Rental homes: Total number, 330; registered, 284; not registered, 46; inspected, 37.
•Mobile homes: Total number, 47; registered, 37; not registered, 10; inspected, 3.
•Apartments: Total number, 446; registered, 437; not registered, 9; inspected, 25.
•Senior apartments: Total number, 71; registered, 47; not registered, 24; inspected, 47.
•Overall rentals: Total number, 894; registered, 805; not registered, 89; inspected, 112.