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.