(ST.JOSEPH,MO) St. Joseph city council could soon make rental inspections a requirement for landlords throughout the city. Monday evening the council voted 5-3 to direct city staff to rewrite an ordinance making the proposed voluntary rental inspection program mandatory for rental properties.
The program will be based off the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) and inspect things like the properties plumbing, electric work, heating and cooling units and the structural integrity of the unit.
Clint Thompson, St. Joseph’s planning and community development director, said staff is currently writing the new ordinance per the council's request, but the program won’t be made mandatory right away.
"The ordinance that will be up for consideration before the council is to allow a voluntary program the first year and then starting a year out, that program would transition to a mandatory program," Thompson said.
Thompson said allowing the program to have a transition period from voluntary to mandatory will give the city an opportunity to add more staff to assist with the program.
Patrick Rigg, general manager of PMR properties, manages nearly 100 units in St. Joseph and said he is not in favor of having a mandatory inspection program.
"I believe most of these inspections and most of these laws are always passed with good intent, with the intent of making the city better, but at the street level it doesn't always turn out the way it was intended," Rigg said.
Rigg said he manages several older properties and feels the new ordinance could put owners of older properties at an unfair disadvantage.
“The updates are much harder, they are labor intense. Materials aren’t readily available. One of the simple things is doors. The older homes have real tall, thick doors and they don’t sell those kind of doors anymore,” Rigg said. “In a lot of cases you find yourself on a minor repair, having to do a major renovation just to bring it back to where it needs to be.”
Property owners will be charged an inspection fee for each unit they manage. The city has not set a final inspection fee, but Thompson said other programs throughout the state charge between $30 and $60 per unit per inspection. Under the ordinance each unit would be required to be inspected once every five years, and many landlords are anticipating having to pass the additional fees onto their tenants.
“I do have properties in other places with rental inspections and what I've seen historically happen in those is it sends rent prices higher. It also drives some of the smaller ma and pop landlords out of business," Rigg said. “The majority of people working are on a fixed budget and they’re not ready to take that additional expense.”
If approved by council, Thompson said rental inspections would be free for the first year of the program. The proposed ordinance will also address out-of-state landlords who maintain property in St. Joseph. Property owners who don’t live within 40 miles of city limits will be required to appoint a designee to be in communication with the city for that designated rental property.
City staff will also be proposing an ordinance requiring landlords to obtain a business license for each unit they manage. Currently a property owner is only required to maintain a business license if three or more units within a structure are used as a rental property. Each unit would cost $1.50 per license and Thompson said the change would give city staff and exact number of rental units in the city. The census lists St. Joseph as having approximately 11,000 units within city limits, but Thompson said only about 4,200 are currently registered with the city.
Both ordinances will be up for first reading at the next city council meeting on February 25. If the rental inspection program is approved by the council, the program would begin July 1, 2020.