Committee to work on rental rules

Groundwork was laid this week on how to proceed on a rental ordinance in Park Rapids. The city council discussed options Tuesday night with building inspector Dave Neisen and city planner Mike Strodtman. Strodtman provided ordinances from Perham ...

Groundwork was laid this week on how to proceed on a rental ordinance in Park Rapids.

The city council discussed options Tuesday night with building inspector Dave Neisen and city planner Mike Strodtman.

Strodtman provided ordinances from Perham and Janesville as a starting point for discussion.

Neisen said he has worked with Perham's ordinance. "It offers a good basis to give to landlords and says these are the things we'll be looking for... There are no gray areas."

The intent, Neisen added, is to cover life, health and safety issues. The ordinance gives landlords time to correct a violation, but is easy to enforce if they don't, he said.


Neisen said he would have time to take on the duties of an inspector for rental units in addition to his job as building and plumbing inspector in the city. Neisen said he has been working for six cities, but because the activity level has increased in Park Rapids, he is planning to give notice of his plans to resign to at least one city.

In fact, Neisen said, once Wal-Mart construction begins, he plans to be onsite there once a day.

Neisen also offered to work on a committee to draft an ordinance for Park Rapids and to educate landlords as the process moves forward.

"The way you stay out of court is through education and a majority would rather be educated than penalized," Neisen said, explaining that when Perham was adopting its ordinance, he met with landlords at a three- to four-hour meeting, but it was "worth a mint" in the end.

Neisen also suggested since Park Rapids has an estimated 800 rental units, a system would need to be determined so they don't all have to be inspected the first year. He suggested a lottery system as one possibility to make sure landlords see the selection as fair and don't feel "singled out."

He also suggested landlords could register every other year, paying whatever fee is decided at that time. Knowing landlords are concerned the fee might impact rental rates, he suggested $20 a year, which would amount to about $1.80 a month per unit. "That wouldn't throw rental rates through the ceiling in the city," he said.

Finally, Neisen said he would expect 75 percent of the fee with the city keeping 25 percent for administration.

Last month, council member Nancy Tague asked the council to consider a rental ordinance, based on the large percentage of rental versus owner-occupied housing in the city. Tuesday night, Tague said that while she likes the idea of a committee working on a draft, she hopes the process doesn't take as long as it did a year ago when the city worked on a landscape ordinance.


During the discussion, Zirkle had suggested an ordinance would have to protect the landlords, too.

"Protect them from what?" Tague asked.

Clyde Zirkle said landlords have to be able to move people out if there are problems.

Tague said landlords can do that with a lease.

Zirkle insisted he isn't against an ordinance and can see both "bad and good" in the idea.

Godfrey appointed him to the committee, too.

After discussion about the make-up of a committee, Strodtman was asked to be in charge. Godfrey appointed Tague, Zirkle and Neisen. Neisen asked that city attorney John Masog be involved to make sure the ordinance can be implemented and enforced. There also seemed to be a consensus that some landlords should be involved at the beginning. Several have volunteered, according to Tague and Strodtman.

Council member Nancy Carroll said she liked Neisen's suggestion of an "education" meeting with landlords, and also suggested the city might get more "buy in" from landlords if they are brought in at the beginning.


In other action Tuesday night, the council (with Gene Kinkel absent):

  • Agreed to accept the county commissioners' offer to have council meetings in the basement of the courthouse. With a new parking area at the Law Enforcement Center, there is more parking space there than in the library parking lot.
  • Approved a change order for the airport hangar construction project. As of March 31, the contractor, American General, has incurred penalties of $52,000 for not completing construction on time. When pay requests are submitted, treasurer Angela Brumbaugh said, "we're making sure we owe them more than they owe us."
  • Heard from administrator Brian Weuve that public works staff had isolated a water main leak on the east side of Fish Hook River. According to Weuve, city staff found out three or four properties were still connected to an old water main under the river they thought was no longer in service. For years, the city has known there are leaks in the system. Weuve said now they suspect this main may be a source of a major loss of water.

Further, Weuve reported, the problem was caught in time to bring it under control before it started to erode the area where the newer 10-inch water main is located. "We could have had a sinkhole in Highway 34," Weuve said.

  • Learned from Carroll interviews have been completed for an executive director for the new Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission. One applicant was offered the position, but Carroll said she didn't know if he had accepted it or not.
  • In his planning report, Strodtman said he expects construction on the Wal-Mart property to begin in mid-April.

Strodtman also reported the city was awarded a trail grant for $190,336 to extend the Heartland Trail. The trail will be constructed in 2009.

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