After hearing several local landlords talk about Big Brother looking over their shoulders and big government invading their livelihood, the St. Clair Planning and Zoning Commission put off making a recommendation to the board of aldermen about updating the city’s occupancy permit program for at least another month.
The planning board met on Monday night in city hall and conducted a public hearing on the occupancy permit program prior to the regular meeting.
After Chairman Myrna Turner read the proposed updated regulations to the 25 or so individuals who attended, five landlords addressed the board. All said they were against the city approving the updated regulations as presented.
“I don’t want more fees unnecessarily paid back to the city,” John Loveless said. “I live in a small town, and I like it. I don’t want government looking over my shoulder. That puts a burden on my tenants. ... I think it’s a bad idea.”
The city planners have been discussing the local occupancy permit program since late last year. Board members have gone through the proposed changes and updates to the program and came up with a document last month they felt comfortable enough with to approve and potentially recommend to the aldermen.
Current minimum housing standards for St. Clair residents are included in Chapter 12-1/2, Article II of the city’s code or ordinances. Any changes in those standards in updating the occupancy permit program would have to come through amending the ordinance.
When approved, the program also will include a listing of minimum housing and life safety standards that landlords and tenants would be required to follow.
Those minimum standards include sections on sanitary facilities and conditions; food preparation facilities; living space requirements; heating and cooling requirements; lead-based paint compliance; structural condition and safety; electrical, fire and carbon monoxide safety; and general safety conditions.
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.
The planners also have looked at Section 6-61 of the city’s code of ordinances which concerns the definition of a dangerous building.
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.
Information made available to those in attendance on Monday stated that the occupancy inspections will be based on the city’s minimum housing and life safety standards as well as the International Property Maintenance Code governing the existence of existing buildings. An inspector will examine the interior and exterior of the property for structural soundness as well as safety issues.
St. Clair businessman Jay Rice’s comments shadowed those made by Loveless.
“This is a business for most of us in this room,” he said. “We moved to a small, rural community for a reason.
“This is Big Brother looking over your shoulder.
Steve Ingram reiterated his fellow landlords’ position.
“I agree with everyone who spoke,” he said. “I think we’re being unfairly taxed. I feel we’re being singled out unfairly. It is Big Brother.
“This is a small town. It’s why a lot of us are here. We get affordable housing to our tenants. (Properties) should be inspected when they’re built. It’s very unfair to be taxed each time someone moves in and out.
“It won’t fix the problem by doing this. It will create a big mess.”
Karen Love and Betty Banks also addressed the board and provided similar comments.
After the public hearing and before the regular board meeting, almost everyone in attendance left, including the five landlords who spoke.
During the regular meeting, Turner told the planners that it now is their turn to speak.
“Everyone who got up and said something had a problem with the fee and with it being assessed every time someone moved in and out,” she said. “I did hear they thought it (updated regulations) was unfair, a government intrusion and that they felt like Big Brother was looking over their shoulder.”
Board member Euvalda Young pointed out that when individuals purchase a home in the city limits, an inspection is not required.
“I feel like the landlords were picked on,” she said. “I think that’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Board member Doug Komo also gave his opinion.
“I agree with the life-saving issues,” he said. “But I can’t disagree with the Big Brother issue.
“I personally would like to think about it for another month and take into account what was said tonight.”
Other board members also gave their opinions.
“I understand their (landlords’) concerns,” Terry Gasaway said. “But the biggest issue is making sure everyone is safe.”
“They (landlords) brought up some good points,” Ken Scott said. We should work with them and find a happy medium. Everyone is doing their part. This is a big step. I think taking another month to discuss it is a good option.”
The motion to table a decision until at least July then was made, seconded and unanimously approved.