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Commission hears public input on proposed rental registration regulations

Monday, August 5, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Proposed rental registration regulations continue to inspire passion among Austinites, as two proposed versions of the idea are headed for consideration by Austin City Council members. The Building and Standards Commissions heard two hours of public testimony on the matter last week.


In June, Council members approved the dueling resolutions, designed to strengthen code enforcement for rental properties in the city. Council Member Bill Spelman’s plan would register landlords who have violated code more than once in a calendar year, creating a “repeat offenders’ program.”


Council Member Kathie Tovo’s plan would create a rental registration pilot program in three neighborhoods and collect data on the issue. The neighborhoods that would be served by Tovo’s pilot are Rundberg, East Riverside/Oltorf and the area covered by the Central Austin Neighborhood Advisory Committee Planning Area.


When Council members passed the measures, they gave staff 90 days return with draft ordinances. As a part of that process, the Building and Standards Commission was tasked with gathering public comment on the proposals, and commissioners got an earful.


Over roughly two hours of public testimony on the two proposals, the public, in general, supported both plans. However there was more support for the Tovo program overall.


Housing Advocate Ruby Roa spoke in support of Tovo’s resolution. Roa said this was because it laid out a process for regular inspections of rental properties for landlords who don’t care.


“Council Member Tovo has been out to these properties to see the problems that we have,” said Roa. “We have a Council member that really and truly knows what these folks have gone through.”


Roa also spoke about the need for a relocation plan, so that the city could be ready when “man-made disasters happen.” She said she was proud of the community’s response after the Wood Ridge Apartments were found to be in critical disrepair, but noted that a plan needed to be in place for similar scenarios in the future.


Tovo’s plan did have its detractors, however. They worried the program would cast too wide a net. Many argued that problem properties and landlords were well-known, and they advocated Spelman’s strategy of improving enforcement strategies on those properties instead of implementing a costly, sweeping program that could divert city resources away from other programs.


Kurt Cadena-Mitchell of Austin Interfaith was among several people who spoke to the need for implementation of both resolutions. He pointed out that reliance on tenants and other citizens to report problems was a poor system. Those who did not live in the properties would be less aware of code violations, and tenants themselves often fail to report issues because of a fear of retribution from their landlords.


Though each measure is expected to cost money to implement, what that figure will be has yet to be determined. Code Compliance Director Carl Smart told the commission that he anticipated that number would be ready along with the two draft ordinances by August 9. Both the Buildings and Standards Commission and the Community Development Commission will get a chance to review those drafts before they go back to City Council, which is expected to take up the matter again on August 29 or Sept. 5.

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