BROOKINGS – Brookings city councilors looked at the city’s Rental Housing Inspection Program on Tuesday night and how they can improve it, with safety being their chief concern.
“Our rental license is very specific,” said Mike Struck, director of Community Development. Code inspectors can inspect for the rental code and the building code, but now, the license doesn’t give the city the ability to deny a license if the rental code is met.
Rentals are licensed for two or four years but can be inspected between if there are complaints, Struck said.
The cost for a license is $20 for a base fee for the structure and a $2 fee per unit. A single-family dwelling would cost $88 for four years, Struck said. A two-family dwelling is $20 base fee, $2 for each unit, for a total of $24 and $96 for four years.
Councilor Patty Bacon pointed out Brookings doesn’t have electrical inspectors and asked what it would cost to bring in one.
A state electrical inspector costs $40 to $60 an hour, Struck said. In addition to that, they are limited in what they can inspect to what they can see; they do not go inside the walls, which is where most of the big issues are.
One of the big complaints city officials get all the time is mold, especially in bathrooms because the ventilation doesn’t exist, Struck said. The codes that apply depend on when the structure was built, he added.
If there’s significant mold visible, the city can make a note of it and inform landlords they can get rid of shower curtains, open curtains on the window to let the sun shine on the mold and use bleach.
The city can help get items addressed, Struck said, but it is up to the landlord and tenant to maintain things. The renter can ask for it to be remediated or to be let out of their lease.
Bacon asked if the city had an ordinance requiring fire extinguishers.
“No, we don’t. We want them to get out of structures as quickly as possible rather than put it out themselves,” Struck said.
Bacon asked if the city makes sure renters know someone has to change the batteries in smoke detectors.
City staff has talked about increasing the budget to provide batteries, Struck said, but the problem is not dead batteries. Tenants take the detectors down because of cooking, smoke, and beeping due to the batteries running down or the detector itself is wearing out.
“They put it up to pass inspection, then take it down,” Struck said. Once the property managers leave, it’s the tenants’ responsibility.
“The majority are good landlords,” Bacon said, but education is needed.
Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne asked about rules and regulations for business owners renting storefronts.
The city does not inspect commercial properties, Struck said, except for renovations or remodels to make sure they follow building codes.
Tilton Byrne pointed out that business owners renting a building spend a lot of time in the structure, as do the public.
Wesley Tschetter made some observations of dangerous situations he’s seen as an insurance agent, then asked if it would take a tenant dying to get attention to those problems.
“I do believe a lot of our rental properties do a good job,” said Mayor Keith Corbett. “We do need to address all of this.”
Councilor Nick Wendell asked if the exam to be a full contractor was separate from that of an inspector. The exam is the same, Struck said, adding there is a great need in South Dakota for tradesmen and he wasn’t sure someone would want to do inspections when they could be running a business.
“Inspectors are usually retired electricians,” he said.
Bacon wants to form a task force or committee to address the problem. There were 4,232 rentals in Brookings in 2015, she said.
Councilor Ope Niemeyer asked about too many unrelated renters in a structure. Struck said the city had taken a landlord to court over the issue, but the judge ruled it wasn’t a landlord problem, it was a tenant problem. Struck said it was hard to track tenants who move around frequently.
City Manager Jeff Weldon asked how the city keeps track of structures that were owner-occupied and then switched to rentals.
Paperwork, neighbors, county system updates; Struck listed a number of ways, but admitted it was getting more difficult to verify because there was less cooperation.
Corbett said he wanted to continue the conversation in the future.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]