Benanav pitches tighter housing rules

Eric Swanson

Students renting apartments in St. Paul might have a new hurdle to jump to ensure legal residence in a rental property.

The St. Paul City Council heard a proposal by council member Jay Benanav – who represents areas of the St. Paul campus – that singles out student dwellings.

The proposal states that landlords who rent to students must have a Certificate of Student Housing, which identifies the property as a student rental. The proposal applies to one- or two-family residences.

“The proposal will give us greater power on the over-occupancy issue,” said Jane Prince, Benanav’s legislative aide.

In addition to the student housing regulations, the proposal also requires hard-wired smoke detectors and regular student housing inspections.

Benanav’s staff said though they might not have the support they need to pass the ordinance now, they wanted to reintroduce it to clean up several defects to the proposal.

The proposed changes would amend chapters 33 and 34 of the St. Paul Legislative Code.

One proposal Benanav dropped this year is a requirement that student housing units be at least 350 feet from each other.

The new proposal will be on the docket for the Nov. 26 City Council meeting after no objections were raised at a public hearing Wednesday.

This ordinance would be the second change to rental requirements for landlords and renters in St. Paul this month.

The first ordinance, passed Nov. 12, makes it easier for housing inspectors to revoke rental licenses from landlords with multiple housing violations. Andy Dawkins, St. Paul’s Neighborhood Housing and Property Improvement director, proposed the ordinance.

In addition to making landlords more responsible, the ordinance allows housing inspectors to request an internal inspection if they find exterior violations.

The Dawkins ordinance will be official 30 days after it is placed in the St. Paul ledger, which is expected to take place this week.

Inspectors will begin their inspections Jan. 1.

Prior to his re-election to the city council Nov. 5, Benanav said he would consider indefinitely holding his current proposal if the Dawkins proposal passed. He said the Dawkins proposal was more aggressive than his. However, Benanav presented the second reading of his proposal to the council Nov. 12.

Wednesday’s public hearing was the third reading of Benanav’s proposal and the document’s second public hearing. The first took place Oct. 22.

When asked why the proposal has continued to move forward in the legislative process, Prince said, “We are less convinced (the Dawkins proposal) will be effective.”

Prince said Benanav needed to reintroduce the proposal following changes that took place after the Oct. 22 meeting, and he might still delay the proposal.

Benanav did not return several phone calls this week.

Regardless of how the Benanav proposal fairs, housing studies professor Ann Ziebarth, who works on the St. Paul campus, said she did not like the idea of another proposal aimed at students.

“I don’t think the city should be discriminating against just students,” Ziebarth said.

On a larger scale, similar moves for the inspection of rental housing at the University’s Morris and Duluth campuses in the past few years have tried to limit student rental rights.

In October 2002, a Morris city ordinance was changed to allow rental property inspections. Landlords claimed the inspectors’ cost and invasiveness violated landlords’ and renters’ rights. The city, however, demanded inspections of the properties.

On the Duluth campus, a city ordinance is being amended to allow four student-renters per house and about one student rental house per block.

One- and two-family residences are targeted under Benanav’s proposal, not apartments.