St. Paul council takes up housing

The City Council will vote Wednesday on revoking licenses from landlords with excessive code violations.

by Beth Hornby

St. Paul might soon make landlords more accountable for poor housing conditions and rowdy tenants.

At the St. Paul City Council meeting Wednesday, St. Paul’s Neighborhood Housing and Property Improvement Director, Andrew Dawkins, clarified his Oct. 22 proposal, which would make it possible for the city to revoke rental licenses from landlords who have excessive housing code violations.

Dawkins said his proposal applies to all St. Paul residents; however, it was shaped with student safety in mind.

“It deals with over-occupancy and poor behavior by occupants,” Dawkins said. “We’ve seen it for far too long.”

University student and community relations coordinator Kendre Turonie said the proposed bill would create better communication between landlords and student renters.

“Landlords are going to be more careful about who they rent to,” Turonie said. “Hopefully this will make them have more thorough discussions with renters before they rent.”

If the bill is adopted in the next council meeting Wednesday, landlords who have reported code violations would have to pay for the cost of housing inspections.

Council member Jerry Blakey, 1st Ward, said he was concerned about the aspect of the proposal that allows police and inspection officers to inspect the interior of a home based on exterior violations.

“I think people might be intimidated and feel a loss of privacy if inspectors and police knock at their door,” Blakey said.

Dawkins said the tenant has the right to decline an inspection and that a property’s landlord would be called before an inspection.

Council member Kathy Lantry, 7th Ward, said the proposed bill, allowing inspectors to enter the house, would allow tenants to avoid conflict with landlords.

“I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions where the tenant is afraid to call in on a property owner, and then if they do, the owner might say ‘Well, why did you call the inspector on me? Get out,’ ” Lantry said.

“If they can say that inspectors showed up at the door and ‘I let them in,’ it lets the tenant get safely off the hook,” she said.

Dawkins said his proposal deals with issues similar to Ward 4 council member Jay Benanav’s Oct. 22 proposed ordinance to

establish regular inspections of student housing and would also require every house to have hardwired smoke detectors.

Hardwired smoke detectors increase safety because they are powered by electricity wired into the house rather than on battery power. Also, the hardwire system ensures, for instance, that smoke detection on one floor will set off fire alarms on every level.

Benanav’s proposal would also have inspectors ensure, during inspections, that no more than four unrelated occupants were living in any one unit.

Benanav also said the city should do a better job cracking down on properties with excessive parties.

Although Benanav said he supports Dawkins’ proposal, it is harsher than his.

“Students will be shocked when they discover that they could be evicted if their landlord loses the rental license,” Benanav said.