Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rent to Blown

I must apologize to our readers for not writing more lately. Been busy drumming up part time work to make up for the weakness my bank account is feeling in this economy. Money is still tight, but we should be able to write more in the future. It's not that there haven't been plenty of issues out there.

The most visible issue right now is probably rental properties. In August Craig Meyers of the WTOS brought a number of problems to the attention of city staff. After a few meetings with the staff, Craig brought this list of problems before the City Council on August 30th during public comments. It wasn't on the agenda for that meeting so all council could really do was tell staff to work with Mr. Meyers and present a recommendation at a future council meeting. Simple, straight forward and very routine so far. Staff should get with Mr. Meyers and others to define the real nature of the problem, what the city is currently doing to address the problem, what tools and resources, whether city or not, are available to address the problem, a look at how other cities are addressing these problems, and a few recommendations to get the ball rolling. Like I said, simple, straight forward, routine.

A couple months later we see a notice and stories in the paper for 2 public meetings on an ordinance to register rental properties . Both of these meetings are scheduled to be held only 2 days apart at the church where Mr. Meyers used to be pastor. Not an auspicious beginning. A council meeting happened to be in the morning on the day the first meeting was to be held. During the public comments, Mayor New asked why the public was being asked to comment on a proposed ordinance the council didn't know about and had never seen. He stated that staff was “overdriving their headlights.” It seems that council members phones had been ringing off the hook since a recent construction board of adjustments and appeals meeting where a proposed “Rental Housing Standards Ordinance” was presented for discussion (Item V on the agenda.) I'm not quite sure why it was brought before this board as it's there “ to hear appeals and variances regarding building construction codes and make decisions regarding demolition of dangerous buildings. ” Don't see much about ongoing rental issues there. Some members of the Board were upset and started passing around what they had received in the meeting to the rest of the city and by Councils meeting on the 15th, staff was in full damage control mode. They started a refrain of “There is no proposed ordinance. We're just looking for information.” This was carried on through the two subsequent meetings. Even when asked directly if the news story quote about a proposed ordinance being discussed was accurate, Mr. Salas took around 7 or 8 minutes to say that he was incompletely quoted and what he had said was something to effect that “If an ordinance was to be presented, it would have to look a lot like the one from Garland.” Yeah, right. The discussion with the Construction Board meeting was just theoretical and they got the agenda wrong.

This isn't to say there are not problems with rental housing in San Angelo. There are. Out of an estimated 4600 single family rental houses in the city, there are going to be problems. Not all people are honest and trustworthy. Some landlords will not fix anything. Fixing things costs money. Some renters are a nightmare. They don't care about the house and fixtures. It's not theirs. I'm quite sure that Mr. Meyers didn't make up the problems he brought to staff and Council. Problems like this need to be addressed. A little basic internet research shows that there are already many laws on the books. Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code covers most aspects of residential rentals. The Texas Attorney General has a lot of information on his website . Various organizations like Texas C-bar , TALHFA , etc. have information available like this Problem Properties Toolkit . Cities all over the state are dealing with health and safety problems in rental properties including substandard and unsafe buildings and serious crime problems. These problems impact neighborhoods and the community at large, not just renters and landlords. Some cities, like Garland and Frisco have some form of registration requirement. Others have various approaches such as partnerships for community engagement, neighborhood volunteer organizations, voluntary inspection programs that landlords can use in advertising, and inspections targeted at properties that have been problems in the past. In addition, all of the various assistance programs have ways to help there customers. Vulnerable groups have resources such as CPS, APS, and MHMR that can intervene to help children, seniors, or those with mental challenges and other disabilities. There are building and property codes, nuisance, health, and safety laws, etc. that can all be brought to bear.

There are no doubt problems with some rental properties. Problems like those talked about at the different public meetings need to be addressed. With that said, these meetings didn't accomplish as much as they should have or could have. It's really hard to present coherent, clear, and sensible ideas against a background chorus of mistakes, denial and damage control in three part harmony.