The Opelika City Council voted to remove a previous version of the rental inspection ordinance it had tabled and introduced a new version of the ordinance at its Tuesday night meeting.
The residential rental property registration and inspection ordinance, if passed, will require landlords to register their rental properties with the city and be held up to city code standards before the properties would be eligible to renters, and the properties would be subject to inspections.
Exceptions to the ordinance would include hotels, churches, medical care facilities, owner-occupied rental units, rental units owned and operated by a governmental agency other than the city and exempt from city regulations, public housing units, units unavailable to rent and short-term rental units, to name a few.
The revised ordinance would require Housing Choice Voucher Program rental units, formerly known as Section 8 housing, to be registered with the city but would not require them to be inspected by the city as HCVP units fall under inspections programs laid out by the U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development and performed by contractors hired by the Opelika Housing Authority.
The ordinance would also require rental units that don’t fall into its categories of exceptions to be inspected by city agents upon first-time registration if the unit is unoccupied, if a citizen issues a complaint about the conditions of the property and whenever there is a change in the property’s occupants.
Revisions to the ordinance state that a change in tenancy would not require an inspection more often than every three years unless a complaint by a citizen is given, and the ordinance says occupants are free to refuse an inspection by a city building official unless the official was given a valid search warrant, according to the revised document.
Property owners would be required to pay the city a $50 fee for an initial inspection of a property and one reinspection to make sure the property is up to the city’s minimum standards. After that, property owners would be required to pay $25 for each reinspection, according to the ordinance.
If property owners rent out their properties without a rental occupancy certificate handed out by the city by complying with the ordinance’s guidelines, they would be subject to a $150 fine for the first occupancy without a certificate, a $300 fine for the second occupancy within one year without a certificate and a $500 fine for the third occupancy within one year without a certificate, the ordinance reads.
The ordinance states that its purpose is to “ensure rental housing in the City is maintained in a good, safe and sanitary condition and does not create a nuisance or blighted condition to its surroundings.”
Despite the revisions made since it was first introduced to the city council, Mayor Gary Fuller said he fully supports the ordinance and expects it to pass at the council’s next meeting on Sept. 21.
“I think the good landlords are not going to have a problem,” Fuller said. “Landlords that are not maintaining their property, and I believe the council will pass it at their next meeting, they will have October, November and December to register, and the inspection won’t start until January. They’ve got three months, so if they know they’ve got some issues—with their roof, hot water—then they’ve got a chance to fix those now, and that’s what I hope will happen.”