After hours of discussion over the last nine months, including another 30 minutes or so on Monday, the St. Clair Planning and Zoning Board forwarded a recommendation to the city’s board of aldermen that it adopt provided rules and regulations regarding a home occupancy permit program.
The changes and updates supported by the planners basically target rental units in an effort to provide minimum housing and life safety standards within the city limits. The majority of the regulations follow already established city ordinances.
“The focus for us is to move forward with this,” planning and zoning member Terry Gasaway said during the meeting, which included another discussion centering on the updates to the standards. “We’re trying to raise the bar.”
The program, which will have to be approved by the board of aldermen before it becomes law, remained basically unchanged from the document discussed in June when a public hearing was conducted and several landlords showed up to protest.
“We need to come up with something we’re comfortable with and others are comfortable with,” board Chairman Myrna Turner said. “And I think we need to do this tonight.”
If approved by the aldermen, the program will include a listing of minimum housing and life safety standards that landlords and tenants would be required to follow.
Current minimum housing standards for St. Clair residents are included in Chapter 12-1/2, Article II of the city’s code or 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 concerns the definition of a dangerous building. The city also has adopted the updated 2009 International Property Maintenance Code.
Planning board members as well as City Inspector Jeremy Crowe have said the main idea behind revising the program is making sure residences are safe for each occupant who lives in them and providing a way for the city to enforce that safety. The changes mainly target rental properties.
A $25 inspection or reinspection fee would be charged as would a $5 permit recording fee. The dwelling must pass the inspection before any new tenant can occupy it, unless more than one new occupant moves in within a year.
Failure to obey the regulations could result in financial penalties of up to $100 per day. A one-year grace period from the date of adoption of the occupancy permit program to its enforcement would be granted.
An inspector will examine the interior and exterior of the property for structural soundness as well as safety issues.
The planners first began discussing changes and updates to the program in November.
“It’s not like this is the first time we’ve looked at this,” said board member Travis Dierker, who also is a Ward 2 alderman in the city.
“We’ve fine-tuned this already to where we think it looks good,” he said on Monday.
Last month during the public hearing, five local landlords addressed the board and shared their dislike of the program. When discussing it, they mentioned “Big Brother” looking over their shoulders and big government invading their livelihood. They also complained about the fee structure and fines that would be put in place.
After the landlords provided their opinions in June, the planners decided to think about the proposed rules and regulations one more month before making a recommendation.
The only landlord who attended Monday’s meeting was Tyson Quattlebaum. He said he basically agrees with the regulations but hopes the city will enforce codes for not only rental properties but also for homes occupied by their owners.
Monday’s tally was 4-1 to support the program with Euvalda Young providing the no vote. Gasaway, Dierker, Doug Komo and Ken Scott provided the support.
Young said she thought recommending the updated home occupancy program as written is “way too much government” and that it’s “too overwhelming.”
She, like Quattlebaum, said if these laws are enforced, homeowners should be held up to the same standards.
“The idea with this whole thing is to have safe, good structures for residents who are renting,” Dierker said in response.
At the beginning of Monday’s discussion, some of the planners said they had no problem with the minimum life-safety standards but weren’t sure about the minimum housing regulations. When Crowe reminded them that the program language was based on already established ordinances, the talk began swaying toward adopting the rules and regulations as written.
“A lot of this is based off current ordinances,” Crowe said.
Mayor Ron Blum agreed.
“This just clarifies what’s already there,” he said. “This way, we won’t have to always go back and look at the ordinances.”
Blum also said that the purpose of having these regulations for rental properties is to make sure everything is being done to ensure the safety of the tenants through their landlords.
“When you have a property that you’re renting to the public, that product is on the open market,” the mayor said. “Those products are governed to be safe. When a person rents a home in St. Clair, it’s not their responsibility to make it safe. But, it’s someone’s responsibility. Who will take that responsibility?
“When you buy a home, you’re purchasing a product, and you’re responsible for it,” he said. “A renter is not responsible. But who is?”
The planners also discussed that other cities in the county have an occupancy permit program in place and that their fees are more expensive than what St. Clair is proposing.
“Our job is to make sure everything is done as it’s supposed to be,” Turner said. “Our ultimate goal is to have safer buildings.”
Shortly thereafter, the motion to recommend the program to the aldermen was made, seconded and approved.