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'We're upping the ante': Davenport unveils changes to rental inspection program
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DAVENPORT HOUSING

'We're upping the ante': Davenport unveils changes to rental inspection program

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Landlords who repeatedly fail to fix housing code violations would face higher penalties.

Tenants as well would be notified of failed re-inspections and given 60 days warning that they may be required to vacate the property if the property owner fails to make ordered repairs under recommended revisions to the city of Davenport's rental inspection program.

Davenport aldermen were briefed this week by city staff on recommended changes to the city’s rental inspection ordinance to respond to concerns that arose this summer over the displacement of dozens of low-income renters amid an affordable housing crisis and pandemic because their apartments had become unlivable.

City officials in August deemed the Crestwood Apartments on E. 37th Street uninhabitable and ordered vacated after repeated failures by the properties' out-of-state owners to make sufficient repairs to what city officials said had become substandard housing in the Quad-Cities.

Inspection reports show the city tried for months and on multiple occasions to reinspect Crestwood-owned units, beginning early this year. A Nov. 18, 2020, city inspection documented a total of 111 housing code violations.

The inspection revealed apartment buildings infested with mold, mildew, rodents and insects; with leaking roofs, ceilings, plumbing and walls; missing or inoperable smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; with exposed wiring, and "questionable" gas-fired furnaces that were improperly maintained; and with deteriorated or missing doors and window screens and deteriorated decks.

"If you're a landlord dong the right thing, we're cool," said Davenport Mayor Mike Matson, who pushed city officials to develop an early-warning system to alert renters to substandard housing conditions in the wake of the city's condemnation of Crestwood Apartments this summer. "If you're not taking care of your property, we're upping the ante and putting some teeth in it and we're going to be paying attention."

Under the proposed changes the city would also increase fees for housing violations.

The city would continue to charge a $50 base fee for a follow-up inspection if violations are found upon an initial inspection and $10 per violation. Landlords would have 30 to 60 days to correct the violations, depending on the violation.

If violations have not been corrected, the city would charge a $75 fee for a second re-inspection (third overall) and $20 per violation. Landlords would then have another 30 days to make repairs. The city would also post notifications on tenants' doors outlining that the property is in violation of the city's rental housing regulations, and that if repairs are not completed by the re-inspection date, the city could order the building be vacated within 30 days.

"Saying, 'Hey, ... as a tenant, in 60 days you could be being told you can no longer live here," Rich Oswald, director of neighborhood services for the city of Davenport. "We don't evict people. We say, 'It's unsafe to live here.'"

Should a landlord still fail to make repairs, the city would charge a $150 fee for a third re-inspection and $30 per violation.

Oswald, though, noted there may be exceptions for serious violations that pose an immediate health or safety hazard, which may require 10 days notice or less to vacate.

City officials, too, noted the timeline for landlords to make repairs may be extended if property owners or managers have hired a contractor or present an acceptable work plan with date-specific benchmarks and goals for making repairs, with the exception of life-safety issues.

Tenants would also be referred to local resources, such as The Salvation Army, that provide rental and relocation assistance once the city posts notice that a landlord has failed a second re-inspection, Oswald said.

Additionally, tenants, prospective tenants or other interested parties can call or email the city at 563-326-6198 and dnsd.info@davenportiowa.org to request current inspection reports and inspection schedule, and verify a property's rental license, Oswald said. They can also access a guide to tenants' rights on the city's website.

The city inspects all licensed rental housing within Davenport every two to four years, which would not change under the proposed revisions. The frequency of inspections depends on the property’s inspection history and compliance with city’s building and property maintenance codes.

More than 500 of the city's roughly 7,500 licensed rental properties are under a two-year inspection cycle.

"We're really focusing on about 508 properties that we need to make sure we are working with the landlords and the tenants, and getting the tenants engaged in the inspection process," Oswald said. "We have a lot of great landlords that are doing a great job. ... If you're the good landlord doing what you're supposed to do, you're not really going to be impacted by this at all. If you're the one's we're constantly dealing with that aren't feeling the pinch and do nothing, you're going to start feeling the pinch."

The goal is to encourage compliance, as well as provide better communication and information to tenants about the city's rental inspection program and the condition of the renal property, Assistant City Administrator Mallory Merritt said. And, Merritt said, to apply consistent enforcement under an inspection program that's clearly outlined for property owners.

Matson urged city staff to add language that would authorize the city to revoke a rental license, preventing a property owner from renting the units, should violations pose a health or safety hazard.

Ald. Ray Ambrose, Ward 4, seemed to agree.

"The great landlords should be embraced and the nuisance landlords should be driven out of town, along with nuisance tenants," Ambrose said. "Whatever it takes. ... We have to be a little more aggressive when dealing with nuisance rental property. Nothing destroys a neighborhood quicker than rental property that has a nuisance owner and nuisance tenants and they're not addressed. This should be a huge priority."

Ald. Maria Dickmann, Ward 2, urged city officials to also be mindful of the need for more affordable housing in Davenport.

"One of the issues we ran into (with Crestwood tenants) was the lack of places to relocate to," Dickmann said.

The proposed fees and notification structure is expected to go before the Davenport City Council for approval in early December.

If approved, Oswald said his department would look to begin implementing the changes in January.

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