Hattiesburg City Council members are reviewing a draft of a proposed ordinance that would require owners of certain rental properties to annually register with the city and undergo a biannual safety assessment process for their properties.
Andrew Ellard, director of the city’s Urban Development Department, discussed the draft during last week’s council work session, where he said it would help the city to identify owners and quickly communicate issues from a code enforcement standpoint. The ordinance would apply to owners of single-family and duplex rental properties throughout the city.
“This all came about more than two years ago, when certain neighborhoods reached out to their council members with some concerns about rental properties,” Ellard said. “(It could have been) issues with the condition of the rental properties, or issues with homes that were being used as basically small fraternities in your otherwise single-family residential neighborhoods.”
The draft features a staged implementation plan, with free registration running through Dec. 31. of this year. From Jan. 1 to March 31, registration would go up to $25 with no late fee, and from April 1 2020 and beyond registration would be $25 with appropriate late fees.
“Because of that registration system, the city will be able to have a quick point of contact if and when there is any kind of issue, whether it’s a code violation issue or anything else that might come up,” Ellard said. “So we’d have a good contact for whoever is responsible for that property.”
Although the city would have a point of contact for property owners, the draft states the measure would not serves as a way for landlords to seek remedies against a tenant. In addition, the ordinance does not seek to insert the city as a mediator between tenants and their landlords, although city officials will take seriously and respond to calls reporting uncorrected violations that are threats to safety or health.
The draft calls for a safety assessment of each property to ensure that the property is safe for rental.
“We want to ensure that we don’t have slumlords renting properties to people that are otherwise going to be in dangerous conditions,” Ellard said. “But we’re not looking in every nook in cranny – this is certainly not to the level of a home inspection that you would get if you were considering purchasing a home.
“This is a basic, life safety type assessment. We would need to hire one person at some point early on … and then we’d gauge our work load based on all those initial registrations.”
Council members are expected to look over the draft and get back with Ellard in the near future.
“It’s in the council’s hands, and I know the mayor and I have been able to get other input since (last week’s) presentation,” Ellard said. “We got some feedback, just to fine-tune some things in the ordinance, but I don’t have a timeline in mind.
“I expect that we’ll be bringing it up again in some format in the coming weeks.”