Edgerton 'landlord list' part of stepped-up code enforcement

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

EDGERTON—If you're a rental or commercial property owner in Edgerton, the city wants to be able to get a hold of you.

The city council on Monday approved a first read of an ordinance amendment which, if approved, would require private owners of residential rental or commercial properties to provide their names and a way the city can contact them by Jan. 1, 2014.

City Administrator Ramona Flanigan said property owner registration would allow the city to build a directory of landlords and business property owners so it could reach them in the case of maintenance and code compliance problems, or during emergencies.

“For instance, if police are on security checks and notice a door open in a building downtown in the middle of the night, they've got someone they can call to tell them,” Flanigan said. “It's a public safety issue as much as anything.”

Officials say the new rule is part of a larger plan to improve compliance with city property maintenance codes downtown and throughout the city. Mayor Chris Lund said it's in response to mounting complaints about run-down residential rental properties.

Now, the city responds to rental property maintenance problems on a complaint basis, but it can be tough to find property owners, Lund said.

“This (amendment) was brought up because of an increase in maintenance complaints about absentee landlords, and their properties needing some real attention,” Lund said. “It's hard to know who all of these owners are and obviously, if you don't know them, even harder to get in touch with them.”

The change would require property owners to list themselves and another person with access to their properties that lives within Rock or Dane counties, along with phone numbers and email addresses.

Registration won't have a fee, but failure to register by Jan. 1 would carry a potential fine of $25 to $500, Flanigan said. Lund said in cases of noncompliance, the city could use tax records to track down property owners.

The city now has a list of contacts for some property owners, but the list is far from complete, Flanigan said. She said the city only has loose estimates of how many residential rental properties are in the city, but she said the number, based on city water bill records, is “substantial.”

A directory of rental and commercial property owners also would help the city take stock of how many rentals there are, and who owns them, Flanigan said.

Alderman Chris Wellnitz, who originally brought the amendment idea to the city's public works committee, said he wanted to give the city another tool to ensure public safety and help it more quickly get to the bottom of problems reported by rental property tenants.

“If they have a complaint about the property, we can have someone to call. It's one way of making sure renters' rights are met,” Wellnitz said.

Edgerton city staff earlier this month reviewed other area cities, such as Delavan, which has a landlord registration ordinance. Delavan's ordinance requires owners of condominiums, apartment complexes and duplexes to register with the city and provide a way to contact them. The rule does not extend to single-occupancy rental homes, Delavan Building Inspector Fred Walling said.

Along with that rule, a city of Delavan licensing ordinance requires the city to check each rental property for maintenance and code compliance once annually for three years. If a property passes inspections and has no maintenance complaints for three years, the owner won't have to undergo another check for two calendar years, Walling said.

Edgerton doesn't immediately plan annual citywide inspections for rental or business properties, Flanigan said, but it is looking to step up checks for building code compliance.

City staff plans to bring to budget discussions this fall a property maintenance program involving code compliance checks of downtown properties.

According to a preliminary estimate, it could cost the city $750 to $1,200 for the city building inspector contractor, General Engineering, to inspect exteriors of buildings in the downtown historic district's five square-block area.

Lund said he'd forwarded a budget request for the program to cover both exterior and interior inspections. He said that would help the city catch up on code compliance for some downtown properties that have changed hands in the last couple of years.

“Some properties downtown are really run down, and not just on the outside. In a few cases, they sit vacant, and you don't know if an owner's ever going to do anything with them,” Lund said.

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