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Rental Licensing Program Nearing Council Talks

City administrators reviewing creation of comprehensive licensing program for rental properties in Kent

The idea of creating a comprehensive rental property licensing program in Kent will be up for a vote at Kent City Council this year.

City administrators are in the midst of reviewing the idea after council voted in March 2012 to have the idea analyzed.

Kent Community Development Director Bridge Susel gave an update on the city staff's progress to members of the Kent Planning Commission recently.

"We know there are illegal boarding houses," Susel said.  "But it’s really hard to prove it. Code enforcement can only take it so far."

The issue has been a topic of debate for years in Kent, but it has come to the forefront again as property owners have sought formal approval from the city to convert houses zoned as single-family to the multi-family boarding house designation.

The city does license boarding houses where more than two unrelated people reside, but property owners who rent to more than two unrelated people in houses zoned single-family violate that law. City officials have said it's unclear how many illegal boarding houses exist in Kent.

The 2010 Census data show the city has a total 11,584 housing units. Of those 10,493 occupied units, 6,492 are renter-occupied and 4,001 are owner-occupied. At least 62 percent of the units occupied in 2010 were rental properties.

Close to 400 addresses were registered with the Kent Health Department in 2012 as approved boarding houses.

Susel told the planning commission Tuesday that when the city's code enforcement officer asks tenants of suspected illegal boarding houses who lives there the tenants often give the same response.

"They know to say two brothers and a sister live here," she said.

Kent Law Director Jim Silver said even a lease showing five different, unrelated tenants doesn't always hold up in court as proof of an illegal boarding house.

"It’s incredibly difficult to prove," he said.

Right now, city administrators are reviewing how a rental licensing program could be structured. That review includes figuring out which city departments would play a role in overseeing the program, how inspections would be conducted, when licenses would be renewed and whether there would be a cost to property owners associated with the license.

"There’s a lot of variables that have to be looked at and discussed," Susel said.

She acknowledged city officials are also trying to be aware of how property owners may perceive or react to the idea.

"It’s very polarizing, especially in a college town where there’s a lot of rentals," Susel said.

Members of the planning commission talked about the idea of writing a letter of support of a rental licensing program and sending it to council prior to the administrations presentation.

The issue could be presented to council for consideration by this summer.

Planning commission chairman Anthony Catalano said he hears concerns from residents frequently about rental properties that are not maintained lowering their property values.

When asked about the issue at Wednesday's city council meeting Councilmen Wayne Wilson and Jack Amrhein declined to comment until they hear the city administration's presentation later this year.

Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said one point of concern would be whether or not the city could afford the manpower and other administrative costs that would be associated with such a comprehensive rental licensing program.

"I don’t think it’s something we think isn’t important," Fiala said.

Chris (Kit) Myers February 12, 2013 at 10:28 AM
1) Mr. Catalano, what are the addresses of the properties about which residents are concerned? 2) We already have a rental licensing program. I have a licensed roominghouse for which I pay a $125 inspection and licensing fee. 3) Are the rental property problems, real or perceived by certain councilpersons, problems of aesthetics, noise, urination on the sides of neighbors' houses, or health and safety issues? If it is health and safety, the council should also be looking to inspect and license, for a fee, of course, private owner-occupied homes where the lives and well-being of babies, children, and oftentimes elderly citizens, are at the mercy of the homeowner. Do not babies and people with altheimers burn to death in private homes as well as in rentals? Of course they do. All I can say is that I hope any councilpersons who are against licensing private homes can live with their conscienses the next time a baby or bed-ridden elderly person dies in a fire in an uninspected, unlicensed, private home in Kent. In other words, why is it deemed worthy to protect tenants by inspecting and licensing the dwellings in which they live, but it is not worthy to protect ALL citizens? Does council feel that people who choose to rent are dumber; unable to make reasonable decisions? I guess so. Kinda makes ya think, don't it?
Sa;;y February 13, 2013 at 12:01 AM
So, I noticed a house on West Main Street (773) that recently sold. I think it was a foreclosure. It's listed on property records as a single family dwelling. They had a sign out to rent a two bedroom apartment. Is that allowed or do they have to get some type of change to the property? Just wondering. Chris - all good points. You sound like a decent landlord who maintains oversight of his properties. Unfortunately, my experience with the rentals by me indicate as long as the checks in the mail the landlords don't care what goes on. Sorry they give you a bad name.
Lightnapper February 13, 2013 at 10:55 PM
Tax the homeowner for the business income generated at the current city business tax rate (business tax equals business lic. & rental registration fee). Enforce the already established zoning, building, fire, police and Health Dept. safety codes, ordinances, and laws across the board to ensure a safe & livable environment is maintained for tenants and neighbors. No additional inspections or fees are necessary unless there is a "legitimate" complaint from a tenant or neighbor being bothered by already legislated and enacted unlawful activity. That's what the police, fire, Building and Safety, Zoning Dept. and the Health Department are for-- to ensure compliance with laws, codes, and ordinances that ensure public safety and quality of life. If this is the case, then investigate and act accordingly. How hard is that? Just because unrelated people live together in a home that is not a sober-living or halfway house with tenants who are monitored, or an established licensed boarding house with "revolving" tenants that is already under the auspices of an inspection program, is no reason to have the "State Apparatus" further involved in people's private lives, related or otherwise, and especially within the confines of their abode-- shared or otherwise. In other words-- butt out Big Brother. If I'm a responsible adult, and I want to, or need to for that matter, split expenses and share a rental with 3 of my friends, or strangers, how is that actually bothering anyone?
Chris (Kit) Myers February 14, 2013 at 02:32 AM
Inspect and license every dwelling in Kent and charge for it. Let the private homeowner and his/her family feel what it's like to enjoy the annual intrusion of an inspector the same as do three unrelated people who choose, for whatever reason, to live in the same house. Let every Kentite be equal under the heel of the jackboot. I'll bet there are a lot of extension cords under rugs in private dwellings which is a fire hazard. Smoke detectors? Cracks in plaster? Drippy faucets? Cracks in windowpanes? Health department violations for licensed rentals. As I have said, and will continue to say, why does the city care so much about the health and safety of three unrelated, perhaps forty-year-old quiet upstanding taxpaying charitable tenants in a dwelling, but not a whit for the health and safety of a little baby in a private home with not even a smoke detector. If these three tenants can't be able to consider their home to be their inviolable castle, why should a private homeowner?
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! February 14, 2013 at 10:08 PM
Amendment IV (Privacy of the Person and Possessions) The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Liberty Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment No State shall... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law
Chris (Kit) Myers February 14, 2013 at 11:52 PM
Rights? You don't have the right to drive with your child unbuckled in your car. What makes you think you have the right to endanger his/her life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness by not providing as safe a home as a landlord has to provide to his/her tenants? Ever hear of child endangering?
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! February 15, 2013 at 01:59 PM
You sound like Mrs. Shaffer. Safety trumps privacy, eh?
Teresa K. February 15, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Chris: Renters are at the mercy of the landlord. Renters dont decide when drywall gets replaced or the toilet gets unclogged. I dont think $125 annually for an inspection is too much. Even any violations that get repaired are deductible against the income made off the rental. Imagine how much money the city might make if ALL illegal boarding houses were registered and inpected. I understand what you mean about ALL homes needing to be equally safe, but I like things the way they are. Inspect the rentals and homeowners take the hit when they go to sell for not doing the upkeep.
Chris (Kit) Myers February 15, 2013 at 09:55 PM
Teresa! Renters are NOT at the mercy of the landlord. Renters have avenues through the courts if they have problems. By the way, a landlord/landlady has to provide a functional toilet and that is the extent of it. If it clogs because of a tenants misuse, that is the tenant's responsibility. You like things the way they are, huh? So you think it's OK for a baby to burn to death in an unsafe owner-occupied house but not in a rental. Interesting... Mars! If tenants have to suffer the indignity of a City inspector looking in their closets, I think homowners should also have to enjoy that privilege. If you and the City think that renters are somehow of lesser quality than renters, why don't you just come right out and say so? I say inspect all dwellings or inspect none.
Sa;;y February 16, 2013 at 12:50 PM
WOW! Talk about taking things out of context! I'm pretty sure Teresa wouldn't be happy with a baby burning to death anywhere!!!! Being a landlord is a business. And, businesses have regulations to follow. Chris - you have some good points in the beginning but now I'm not so sure.
Chris (Kit) Myers February 16, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Well, Sa;;y, why do certain safety regulations apply only to residential properties that are businesses and not to all residential properties? Can fire identify one from the other? Does fire say to itself, "I'm not going here; this property is owner-occupied?" Of course Teresa wouldn't be happy with a baby burning to death anywhere, but it would seem to me that if we are going to regulate home safety it should be required acoss the board. Why do I use the example of a baby burning in a fire? Because, Sa;;y, I think that pretty much says it all. And, Teresa, while a person who doesn't keep his owner-occupied home kept up may take a hit because when he/she goes to sell, I don't believe that that is sufficient rationale for allowing him/her to provide an unsafe home for those family members who have no control over their envirnment. I really don't think you believe that, either, but correct me if I'm wrong.
Chris (Kit) Myers February 16, 2013 at 02:14 PM
Please disregard the word "because" in the last paragraph of my last post. Also my spelling of the word "environment." I ain't the best editer or tipist.

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