Rental inspections will touch tenants, landlords

Apartments will be subject to inspection for violations by tenants and landlords. (Chelsy Lueth)

The Manhattan Department of Fire Services has recently begun the process of enforcing the new Residential Rental Licensing and Inspection Program Ordinance. The Manhattan City Commission passed the ordinance in September 2009 during a regular meeting of the commissioners.

The purpose of the ordinance is to protect both the interests of tenants who are renting within the city, and to protect the interests of the landlords who own those properties. As part of the ordinance, all the dwelling units in the city that are not occupied by the owner of the property must have a license.

A “dwelling unit,” as explained in the ordinance, is any single residential unit which provides complete, independent living facilities for one family. This includes apartments, apartments within a house, or houses which are rented out by tenants.

The owners, or landlords, of these properties are required to buy a $20 license for each individual unit they own.

“Every unit in Manhattan has to have a rental license,” said Kelsey Morgan, rental inspection secretary. “Basically, the rental inspection program was just started, but so far it’s working really well.”

Morgan said at the beginning of April there was a meeting held at the Manhattan Fire Department Headquarters for landlords and property owners of Manhattan. At that first meeting, she said, the rental inspection program officials handed out packets of information about the new program.

Also as part of the rental inspection program and the licensing process, owners must allow for a building official to inspect each dwelling they own. Whenever the license of a unit is renewed, there must be a routine inspection by an official to make sure the unit does not have any violations.

“Every year, we are required to come in and do a routine inspection of the unit,” said Rick Berry, rental inspection officer.

Berry said there are several things the officials will be looking for, both tenant and landlord related.

“One of the main issues that affects students is that by the ordinance, not more than four students or people that are unrelated can live in the same property,” he said.

Berry said there have been several instances where more than six or seven unrelated tenants have been living in a unit. He said by the ordinance, if there are more than four unrelated persons living in a unit, the extra persons are required to leave.

“Other than checking for the number of occupants in a dwelling, we will also make sure that there are smoke detectors in every bedroom and on every level of a property,” Berry said.

He said the officials will also be inspecting whether tenants have removed the batteries from any of the smoke detectors within a unit for safety purposes. The officials will also be looking out for violations which are the landlord’s responsibility to take care of.

“We will make sure that there is a minimum size fire extinguisher in each unit,” Berry said. “And another thing we will be checking for is the proper size for emergency escape windows in units.”

He also said officials will be checking to see if each dwelling they inspect has proper trash receptacles with watertight lids for the tenants of the property. There are several other violations that the inspectors will also be looking for, which are all explained in the ordinance passed by the city.

“If we go in and find no violations, there won’t have to be another inspection for five years for that unit,” Berry said.

However, if violations are found, the officer establishes a time period in which the tenants and/or the owner of the dwelling must fix the problems. If the violation is resolved within the given time period, then the next inspection of that until will be three years after the original inspection date.

“The owners of the units will have to pay an initial $65 fee when the inspection happens,” Morgan said.

All information about the new rental inspection program, along with the Rental Inspection Ordinance, inspection guidelines, applications for licenses, and a sample inspection report, are now available on the programs Web site, inspection.

“We’ve worked really hard to get this Web site working,” Berry said. “Hopefully by later this summer, people could go on the Web site and check to see if the property they want to rent is participating in the rental licensing.”

Each dwelling unit in the city, Berry said, is supposed to be registered by October 1, 2010, and inspections are expected to begin in January 2011.

“Our job is to enforce whatever the City Commission passes,” said Brad Claussen, building official. “And we will do that to the best of our ability.”

Berry said that along with the Web site, there will also be more informational meetings for property owners and managers throughout the summer. Those who attend the meetings will receive packets of information from the rental inspection officials, and may also talk with the officials if they have any questions regarding the new ordinance.

The second informational meeting will be May 6, 2010 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the large assembly room at the Manhattan Fire Department Headquarters, located at 2000 Denison Ave.