By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
A first step toward adoption of rental housing standards in Imperial was taken by city council members Monday.
The council received samples of rental housing requirements used by other communities compiled by City Clerk/Administrator Jo Leyland. In the coming months, the council expects to work on details of a future ordinance setting standards for rental housing here.
Adopting rental standards in Imperial has been discussed over the past few years, but the council got another “push” to get something in place in a recently-completed housing study in the community.
That study, also reviewed at Monday’s meeting, “highly recommended” in its section on rental properties that rental housing standards be adopted.
Conducted by Southwest Community Betterment Corp., the study noted of the 120 rental units in Imperial, 46 percent are in “poor/very poor condition.”
One situation brought to the attention of city officials, Leyland noted, was a rental home in Imperial that was using a turkey fryer as a heat source in the home. And, other people’s children were being cared for in that home.
Safety is at the top of the list for adopting these standards, Leyland noted.
But, the city is also finding more and more that when seeking funds for housing efforts, either from grants or other sources, “they are asking if we have rental housing standards,” Leyland noted.
And, it’s believed it will become even more of an issue in the future, she said.
Now, applicants for housing funds, such as for the city’s recent owner occupied rehab program that helped fund energy efficiency improvements in several homes here, may be awarded higher points in the grant application process if rental housing standards are in place.
Leyland foresees that likely being a requirement to apply in the future.
The standards given to the council for review came from a compilation of standards Leyland acquired from the cities of Arapahoe, O’Neill and So. Sioux City.
Some of the key points in the rental housing standards presented Monday:
An initial inspection of every rental unit in Imperial to determine if the standards are being met would be required.
An inspection would be required every five years unless a new renter moves in and an inspection hadn’t been done in the past year.
At least one window must be located in the living room and in each sleeping room. Each of those rooms must also have two electrical outlets that work.
Sanitary facilities in working order must be located inside the unit and provide privacy.
Dwelling must be structurally sound, including a watertight roof.
At least one working smoke detector must be in the rental.
Requirements on windows was a concern for Building Inspector Nick Schultz, who likely will be the city official doing the inspections.
He said there are a lot of properties that do not have adequate basement windows for emergency exit such as during a fire.
Privately-owned, older homes are grandfathered in with regard to those national building codes for windows, but Schultz said the rules are not clear with rentals. He told the council he’d try to get that clarified.
Leyland told the council she expects resistance from some rental property owners.
One already told her if the standards require a lot of repair cost, it will be passed onto the renters, which could mean cutting off certain people who couldn’t afford the increase.
If an ordinance is eventually approved, Leyland said they would hold three readings of it before it is voted on for passage.
Council President Doug Gaswick also suggested holding a public meeting after the first of the year about the proposed standards.
More on Monday’s council meeting will be reviewed in next week’s issue.
Other council business
- Changes in deposits for new utility customers will start the first of the year. The initial deposit will rise from $100 to $200 with a letter of credit required from the customer’s previous utility supplier. Reconnect fees, now at $25, will rise to $50 and go to $75 if after hours. Those rates are the same for residential and commercial. The council chose to increase these fees after writing off more than $4,500 in unpaid utility bills earlier this month.
- Two bids, each at $3,500, were received for the city-owned lot at 1710 Broadway. One came from Ed Lee, who lives south of the lot. He would use the lot to park trucks. Bruce and Crystal Peterson also submitted a bid noting, if accepted, they would build two residential-looking structures for their businesses—Mud Buckets and All Stars Daycare & Preschool. In both cases, the lot would have to be rezoned, which requires an initial approval from the Planning Commission and letters going out to the neighbors, then council approval. That lot is now zoned multi-family residential. Lee’s bid also stipulated the foundation and basement concrete be removed. The council tabled action to get city attorney input regarding direction since two equal bids were received.
- West Central NEBRASKA Development District (WCNDD) was hired to manage the city’s nuisance abatement program. An agreement for $5,865 was approved, which will allow WCNDD to start in one of seven sections of the city they have mapped out. It was indicated those funds are probably just a start but the agency would have to come back to the city for approval of further funds. The city budgeted $20,000 for nuisance abatement this budget year, but some of that funding is designated for other costs related to the issue, such as cleanup.