The Sedalia Rental Inspection Committee met for the second time Wednesday night, but not much was accomplished other than acknowledging what most Sedalians already know — there’s a problem with too many sub-standard homes in Sedalia.
Some citizens have complained the city will just push through a rental inspection ordinance with no regard for tenants or landlords, but those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting can attest to the fact that local landlords Terri Hunter and Kim Welch are ready to fight for a fair ordinance for their fellow landlords.
Chuck Leftwich said he researched several rental inspection ordinances across the state this spring when he was running for Sedalia City Council Ward 1, some being in effect for a few years and one being in effect since the mid-1990s. He said he spoke with city officials in those communities and they “all had positive things to say about the program. They stressed how well it’s worked for so many years.”
David Wiedeman, also a local landlord, said he wants to know more about why the city’s current code enforcement ordinances are “failing” and if they can be “tweaked” before diving into a larger inspection ordinance.
“I would say at this point you have got pretty heavy objection to the idea of the rental inspection ordinance,” Wiedeman said. “As I sit on this committee, if we say we need an inspection ordinance, I need to know why the others isn’t working.”
“I know the surveys we put out, it was overwhelming (in favor of rental inspections),” Mayor Stephen Galliher, who is the committee chairman, said.
Wiedeman replied by saying people won’t be in favor once they find out how much it will cost for an inspection, which has not yet been discussed. Welch chimed in on the fee issue, adding that some maintenance requirements, such as the need to replace egress windows, could cost landlords “exponentially down the road” and that cost would be passed to their tenants.
“That’s what concerns me,” she said.
Galliher reminded her that addressing those concerns is the committee’s responsibility, and that it is up to the committee to come up with a recommendation to council about things such as egress windows and costs.
“I think it’s a matter of the right mix,” Leftwich added. “Because a lot of these cities that have these programs in effect for years, they’re covering things that are safety issues, real safety issues. What do we do, overlook safety for the sake of not having an inspection fee? We have to look at the safety and find the right mix.”
Members of the committee also clashed on whether or not fines should be imposed on landlords who don’t follow ordinances. At the beginning of the meeting, Welch said she would like to see an ordinance that includes incentives rather than punishment.
City Attorney Anne Gardner said her only options in municipal court are to fine or jail a code violator. She said collecting fines is difficult, and Chief Building Inspector Andy Burt said following up with violators is just as difficult, as current ordinances only allow the city to inspect inside a residence if a tenant complains and invites the city inside. If that tenant gets fed up and moves out, the city can no longer inspect inside, unless a new tenant complains.
Gardner asked the committee that if they don’t think imposing a fine is the best option to think of other options to bring to future meetings for discussion.
“Kim, when you (spoke about incentives), it intrigues me,” Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Leeman said. “At the bottom line of everything, I think somewhere there’s got to be some type of a fine. There’s got to be some kind of a hammer out there.”
“But it isn’t effective,” Welch quickly replied.
Leeman asked Welch to expand on her ideas of incentives.
“The Landlord Association presented a program to the city two years ago and it went nowhere and it included incentives, education and it included inspections done by landlords of their own properties, which we do all the time,” Welch said. “When we enter properties to collect rent I’m checking to see if the tenants have broken windows, if there’s holes in the walls, have they removed smoke detectors. We do this because we care about our properties.”
“If you inspect yourself, that’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house, isn’t it?” Galliher asked.
“You’re saying you don’t trust your community?” Welch replied.
“What I’m saying is if you police yourself, and I’m sure that some do, I’m not saying you don’t, I’ve seen some of your stuff. Some folks are doing it, but there’s some folks that aren’t. That’s what’s led to this,” Galliher said.
Welch replied, saying that complaint-driven inspections are needed, and Galliher again reminded her that’s what the committee is tasked with deciding.
Welch complained that there should be a solution to holding landlords accountable rather than “going in circles” with violating ordinances, being fined, and then the process starting all over again with the next violation. Her remark could have also applied to the meeting, as it was clear the members are divided on whether an inspection ordinance is needed, and little progress was made Tuesday, other than deciding on the next meeting’s topic.
After Tuesday’s discussions it was decided November’s meeting will include guests from the Code Enforcement Department and municipal court to explain the process from start to finish.
The committee will be meeting with City of Independence officials later this month to discuss its recently-passed rental inspection ordinance. The next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2 in the Mayor’s Conference Room at the Sedalia Municipal Building, 200 S. Osage Ave.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.