City to introduce Rental Housing Code
An ordinance scheduled for introduction Tuesday would establish health and safety standards for rental units and provide for enforcement of those standards through a registration and complaint system.
City staff will introduce an ordinance Tuesday laying out rental regulations that would require landlords to register dwelling units and keep those units professionally maintained.
The regulations also establish a complaint system organized by the city manager’s office and detail punishments for landlords who reign over unsafe or unsanitary living conditions.
“The purpose of the City Rental Housing Code is to provide minimum habitability criteria to safeguard health, property and public wellbeing of the owners, occupants and users of rental housing and is intended to supplement rather than conflict with the habitability standards in Wyoming State statutes,” the ordinance states.
Laramie has a large renting population — half of its residents rent the home they live in — and the city has gained a reputation as a kind of wild west when it comes to rental properties. Notorious landlords, frequently unsafe living conditions, and a severe housing shortage have contributed to a rental environment in which tenants often feel abused or taken advantage of.
The rental regulations that go before the Laramie City Council on Tuesday arise out of this environment and amid a wider effort to reform housing in Laramie.
The last time the city council considered rental regulations, in early 2019, a coalition of landlords, property managers and others turned out to forcefully denounce the idea.
The resolution in 2019 would have directed city staff to explore rental regulation possibilities. It failed on a 5-4 vote.
All four councilors who voted in favor of the 2019 resolution are all still serving, while just two of those who voted against it remain.
The proposed ordinance, the City Rental Housing Code, institutes standards for rental properties, establishes a complaint system, and lays out an enforcement system that will require Laramie landlords to register their rental units. The ordinance directs the city manager to fully implement the housing code by no later than May 2023.
The rental housing code would establish requirements for structural integrity and weatherproofing. The code would also require the maintenance of plumbing, heating and electrical systems – work for which landlords must hire licensed contractors.
“Repairs must be permanent rather than temporary and shall be through generally accepted [plumbing/heating/electrical] methods installed in a workmanlike manner by a licensed contractor,” the ordinance states under each subsection.
There would be specific requirements for each of these systems.
Plumbing systems would have to be free of “defects, leaks and obstructions.” Portable space heaters would not be sufficient heating systems. And light switches and fixtures would have to be in “good working order.”
The code would also require landlords to manage pests and mold.
“Every dwelling unit must be maintained free of pests,” the ordinance states. “At a minimum, the landlord must provide commercially available pest control measures, traps, treatments, and the sealing of gaps and holes in the dwelling structure.”
Landlords would also be required to address mold.
“Every dwelling unit must be maintained free of dangerous concentrations of mold,” the ordinance states. “If significant visible mold results for any reason, repairs must include removing the mold, which may include mold on or in interior walls, ceilings, sheetrock, insulation, floors, carpets or carpet backing and documentation from a third party mitigator stating the issue has been resolved.”
The code would also require the presence of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms and locks on doors and windows. Additionally, every dwelling unit would have to have two entry/exit points.
These requirements could have been inspired by the complaints rental tenants have lodged against some Laramie landlords for years: a refusal to fix broken appliances, the furnishing of unfit living conditions, the growth of unaddressed black mold.
But another complaint tenants have raised is that — even if one’s living conditions are illegal — some landlords have responded with threats or even eviction when tenants tried to assert their interests.
The new ordinance takes aim at that issue as well.
The rental housing code would give the city manager authority to enforce the requirements listed above. If tenants believed their landlord was violating one of the requirements, they would have to notify their landlord of the violation and give the landlord time to amend the situation — ten days in most cases, but just 48 hours when the violation involves “essential services.”
If this process fails to remedy the situation, the tenant would be able to kick off the enforcement process by filing a written complaint. That complaint must include details about the violation and a copy of tenant-landlord correspondence showing that the latter was notified.
At this point, the city manager would confirm that the tenant has followed these steps and then begin an investigation.
“When it may be necessary to inspect to enforce the provisions of the City Rental Housing Code, the City Manager may enter the building or premises at reasonable times to inspect, provided that if such building or premises be occupied, that credentials be presented to the occupant and entry requested,” the ordinance states. “Inspection shall be limited to the matter of the complaint except when the City Manager or any other City Official may observe any imminent danger under the Building Codes requiring immediate action.”
If the city manager then determined that the inspected unit was indeed in violation of the rental housing code, the landlord would be ordered to remedy the situation and bring the unit into compliance. That order would also include a deadline — usually ten days, but only 48 hours in the case of essential services, and possibly longer than ten days if, in the city manager’s opinion, the necessary repairs would take longer.
If repairs would take longer than ten days, the landlord would be required to submit a compliance schedule.
Failure to comply will land the landlord in municipal court, wherein the city will fine them up to $100 a day for every day beyond the deadline noncompliance continues. The city could also revoke a landlord’s rental registration.
In another major addition to city code, the ordinance would require that each rental unit be registered with the city. If the owner of a rental property resides outside Albany County, they would have to identify a local “owner’s agent,” who would serve as “the responsible party,” and provide contact information.
Landlords would have to pay a fee to register each rental unit.
“The fee for registering each Dwelling Unit will be determined not less than every two years biennially by resolution of the governing body,” the ordinance states. “Dwelling Unit registration must be renewed every two years; Registration fees are not refundable, but they are transferable to a new owner of the Dwelling Unit.”
To qualify for registration, the landlord would have to attest that each unit is in compliance with the rental housing code and provide proof of ownership and insurance. Once registered, the landlord would also have to provide a copy of their license to each tenant.
Should a landlord fail to register a unit or units, they would be fined.
“For each calendar month or portion thereof that a Dwelling Unit is not registered with the City as required by this section, the owner may be issued a citation into Municipal Court,” the ordinance states. “The penalty for a violation hereunder shall be a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100.00) for each calendar month or portion thereof that a Dwelling Unit maintains unregistered and continuing until the owner complies.”