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Milton approves landlord law

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
July 20, 2011
— The Milton City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing the city to fine landlords at least $300 for failing to maintain safe, livable conditions in residential rental properties.

The council did so by waiving a third reading on the ordinance, which was introduced in June.


Alderwoman Nancy Lader, who owns eight rental properties in Milton, issued the lone “no” vote because she wanted a third reading on the ordinance.


Under the new ordinance, city code enforcers can issue landlords citations for failure to make timely, adequate repairs on residential rental properties. It also would force tenants to handle repairs when they damage rental properties.


The ordinance mirrors state statutes for rental property maintenance, but it will allow repair complaints to be handled locally, in city court, instead of circuit court.


It’s intended to force landlords to maintain amenities agreed upon in leases and would give renters a faster way to handle maintenance problems than filing a complaint in circuit court.


Noncompliance fines range from $300 for a first offense to $1,000 for a third offense, plus fees.


Joe Thompson, who owns rental properties in Milton, addressed the council Tuesday.


Thompson said he supports the ordinance, but he wanted to know how the complaint process would work.


City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said a city police officer would be in charge of enforcing the ordinance and a city building inspector would inspect maintenance complaints.


Complaints would be filed through municipal court by the city, not a tenant or a landlord.


Thompson also asked how much notice landlords would get on repair complaints before getting a ticket.


Schuetz said the first step in enforcement would be to try to get landlords or tenants to voluntarily comply with repair issues.


As it is written, the ordinance would apply only to active rental leases. But Mayor Tom Chesmore, who has been a vocal supporter of the ordinance, said the city council could strengthen enforcement if landlords try to skirt the rules.


The intention is to ensure landlords aren’t ignoring dangerous problems in apartments. Chesmore has cited black mold, buckled floors and broken furnaces as problems the ordinance could address.


“If this (ordinance) doesn’t address some of the issues, then we’ll revisit this,” Chesmore said. “We’ll get to them.”


Thompson suggested the city should put out a handbook that shows renters how to handle repair requests.


Schuetz said the city was in the midst of forming an area landlord-tenant coalition. The group would allow city officials to work with landlords and renters on expectations for property maintenance and other issues.


It would be a good idea to have landlords and renters file maintenance checklists when tenants move in and out, former Alderwoman Lynda Clark said. That would ensure maintenance problems don’t sneak up on people.



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