More on the rental debate…

I was not able in today’s paper to delve into everything that was said during the public hearing last night on the rental ordinance.

Ten people spoke during the hearing, which lasted just over 30 minutes.

The council did vote 6-0 (Councilor Greg Negard was absent) to accept the revisions as presented, but no vote was taken that indicated whether the council as a whole supports the ordinance. A final vote is expected Oct. 3.

However, later, at the tail end of the meeting, some councilors did make statements addressing the proposed ordinance.

Councilor Rita Albrecht said she tended to agree with those who spoke out against the proposed fee schedule.

The annual rental registration fee schedule, as proposed, is as follows:

- One-unit rental, $100.

- Duplex, $125.

- Buildings with 3-12 units, $150.

- 13-24 units, $200.

- 25 units and up, $300.

Several commenters during the public hearing said the fee schedule is not fair, that the one-unit rental fee is disproportionately higher than the larger rental complexes. Buildings with 25 units would be charged $300, which means each unit at most would be charged $12 each.

Resident Nellie Withoff during the hearing argued that the larger complexes are likely to have more problems than single rental units.

Albrecht later agreed, saying that that some multi-family rental complexes have a high number of police calls.

She asked her fellow councilors if the city fully intended to follow the ordinance and shut down multi-family complexes completely if they are not compliant with the ordinance.

She also asked what the original intent was of the rental ordinance.

City Attorney Al Felix said, as he recalled, there were three points that councilors wanted to address:

- Bad conduct by tenants.

- Unregistered vehicles at rental properties.

- A goal of moving the city from a three-year annual permitting cycle to an annual cycle.

City Manager John Chattin added that, also, councilors had wanted to discourage the conversation of single-family homes to rentals and to encourage the conversion of rentals to single-family homes.

He said the rental ordinance is the council’s “first step” in enacting recommendations from the city’s Quality Neighborhood Initiative.

After the rental ordinance is complete, Chattin said, he believes the city next will address permit parking in neighborhoods and applying the same building codes in the proposed rental ordinance to owner-occupied homes throughout the city limits.

“I think it does meet the original intent of what the council wanted to see done,” he said.

Councilor Kevin Waldhausen served on the rental committee these past three months.

“I believe we came together and brought forth an ordinance we could live with,” he said, noting that not everyone agreed on all points.

He noted that the ordinance can always be revised in the future if it does not work as intended.

“But I believe we need to move on with this,” he said.

Councilor Roger Hellquist, who also served on the committee, appeared to agree, saying the proposed rental ordinance is the culmination of a long process.

Further, he said, the city in naming committee members represented a cross-section of Bemidji rental properties. One landlord oversees large complexes, one provides housing to low-income renters, and one was a single-unit landlord.

“This process went as well as it could. There was give and take on all sides,” Hellquist said. “I think it’s a living document. We’re not marrying this thing. It’s going to be changed from year to year. It’s going to have an annual review. This is where we’re starting from.”