Jan 232005
Authors: Lila Hickey

Other cities have successfully implemented rental licensing, mostly larger communities with significant rental populations, often college towns.

In East Lansing, Mich., rental licensing has been a way of life since the 1970s, said Ann McAulifee, an administrative clerk in the city's housing department.

"I think it's been going on for so long – it's a fact of life here," McAulifee explained.

In East Lansing, rental licensing requires general registration and health and safety inspections, and the city also employs a "two-unrelated" occupancy standard and a nuisance-gathering provision that allows for landlord notification after more than three tickets are issued at a property.

Of the cities Fort Collins did external research on, East Lansing also has one of the most expensive and restrictive rental-licensing systems. Property owners pay $1,535 to initially register a property as a rental, with annual renewals costing $180 and inspections costing $136 initially and $70 for every additional inspection.

The city also reserves the right to forbid rentals in certain neighborhoods and to freeze the issuing of licenses for indefinite periods of time.

By contrast, the city of Boulder charges only $45 for rental licensing and only requires a $45 renewal every four years. The city does outsource the inspection process to private contractors, however, making the cost of health and safety inspections variable.

Doug Bigelow, a licensed inspector who often works in Boulder, believes the health and safety inspections are a good idea for tenants who may not recognize dangerous conditions.

"I think it's a good idea that the city get involved and make sure the people who rent aren't renting dives," he said. "It's mainly frat houses; they're just dives. I don't do them – I just don't want to get involved."

But Bigelow thinks that landlords also benefit from inspections because inspectors can notify property owners of unauthorized changes made by renters.

"They take off smoke detectors, they rewire," he said. "I've found crack manufacturing places in basements, and that's a hazard. You know, that's not on the city's checklist, but you pass that info on to the landlord."

Boulder also has occupancy standards, but it allows overlay zones – allowed exemptions to the standard three or four persons permitted to live in a house, based on neighborhood decisions or house-by-house exemptions.

In Raleigh, N.C., a rental occupancy standard was recently introduced, despite heavy opposition. The occupancy standard, which limits the number of people who can live in a rental home, was supported by a variety of homeowners, who spoke of nuisance problems similar to those in Fort Collins.

Some realtors and neighborhood residents opposed the standards because they felt the ordinance would discriminate against renters and they believed in the importance of people simply taking responsibility for their own problems.

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