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Legal committee seeks solutions for local renters; Proposed ordinances could aid in redevelopment, reinvestment

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City Manager Joe Neeb gave input on proposed ordinances regarding properties within Roswell’s city limits last Thursday at City Hall. (Alison Penn Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The City of Roswell’s legal committee last recently discussed property liens, fee waivers, the new nuisance property ordinance, and a rental property registration program to protect Roswell renters.

City Attorney Aaron Holloman, City Manager Joe Neeb, and Bill Morris, the city’s community development director, presented each item before the legal committee on Monday. Holloman said the plan was to give the committee until next month’s meeting to review these initiatives and to ask questions or create more dialog.

Holloman said crime and the city’s livability were prevalent themes during the city elections. Neeb said these related ideas have been topics of discussion and examination for the past six months and are now ready for the council’s input and consideration.

Both Holloman and Neeb said the idea is to prevent crime by improving neighborhoods through regulation, enforcement and redevelopment.

“It’s one thing to take down a building that is dilapidated in there,” Neeb said. “It’s another to rebuild that neighborhood.”

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According to the city’s Affordable Housing Plan adopted in 2016, 41 to 53 percent of Roswell residents pay more than 30 percent of their income for rental housing and 27 percent of all Roswell households pay a similar amount.

The plan also stated that 17.1 percent of the population is below the poverty level.

Bill Morris said there are 10,000 rentals out of 19,000 housing structures and the rentals are in various conditions — with a lot of them being unsafe. The affordable housing plan listed the average rental household size to be 2.51 persons. The plan also stated there are 226 households without plumbing or kitchen facilities.

Rental registration program

Morris said the minimum property standards for commercial and rental properties are based on the international property maintenance code. He said the basic standards for a structure to be fit include adequate heating, electric, water and sewage. He shared a proposed rental housing registration program — the idea is the property owner, at a frequency of once every 10 years, would hire an inspector and return inspection verification for the city to file it.

Morris said these efforts attempt to eliminate slumlords and prevent citizens from paying large amounts of money for abysmal living conditions. He said it would also require property owners to maintain their property and protect them from prospective property issues.

The purpose of the program is to intervene on a property before it gets to an unfit stage, or one that warrants condemnation, according to Morris.

Through a rental property maintenance code, Holloman said the city can regulate the conditions of housing to avoid a decline in the value of neighborhoods. The city can enforce housing standards and redevelopment through the current procedures of condemning properties and dealing with nuisance properties.

Neeb reiterated the city’s issue of with dealing absentee landlords that live outside of Roswell, which he added city has more than its fair share in the present moment. He said these landlords rake in money but don’t invest back into the property. More often than not, Neeb said tenets afraid to come forward about their conditions in fear of being evicted; he said these procedures create a structure to recognize a major problem and prevents renters from being stuck in difficult situations.

Supporting ordinances

Implementing a nuisance property ordinance and unfit habitation ordinance would bolster the city’s enforcement efforts, according to Holloman.

Holloman shared that the chronic nuisance ordinance would allow the city to address property owners with repeat offenses, and calls for service to the Roswell Police Department. However, he said the nuisance ordinance only allows the building to be demolished — while the unfit habitation ordinance allows the city to make repairs and resolve the situation.

The chronic nuisance ordinance would take effect when three violations in a 12-month period occur. After this, Holloman said the property is deemed a nuisance. Enforcement of the ordinance would target the property owner with fines and abatement with an opportunity to reconcile the issue. Neeb used an example of a property that had 24 calls and three arrests by the Roswell Police Department.

Neeb said it is unfair to honest taxpayers to support that behavior. He said the ordinance can be used to stop crime or encourage people to leave town.

Neeb said these ideas explore how to reinvest in Roswell’s neighborhoods. After Holloman referenced some outcry surrounding condemnations in the historic district, Neeb said he doesn’t want to tear down every building because Roswell has “nice, eclectic buildings worth saving.”

At this time, Holloman said the city has been placing liens and not enforcing them. Neeb said these ordinances and policies are being considered to complete the process — after the buildings are condemned or have a lien on them.

Holloman said he and his office have been sending out letters regarding outstanding liens, informing the property owners the city intends to recover the lien and offering options for payment plans and other negotiations. He said some people have responded with interest in negotiations — and where there’s been no reply the city has filed three lawsuits. In some cases, he said some properties have cost the city $25,000 to $40,000, which is a loss to the city.

Redevelopment and lien waivers

For redevelopment of properties acquired by the city after a judgment is rendered, Holloman said the city can sell the properties and/or use the request for proposal (RFP) process to sell them for redevelopment purposes.

Neeb said a requested dialog between developers and the city would create cohesion in the neighborhoods.

When questioned by Chairwoman Judy Stubbs, Neeb said that four to five builders, and adjacent property owners, are interested in properties around Roswell.

A waiver of liens resolution is another potential policy that would allow the city to waive liens if an agreement is reached for a property owner or builder to develop something that would benefit the surrounding community. Holloman said the policy addresses the city’s anti-donation clause and encourages developers to keep looking at properties for future development. Holloman said there is a process for expired liens to be reviewed.

In regard to properties with liens, Holloman said the city is considering installing sidewalks at condemned sites to also encourage redevelopment and show the neighborhoods the city is committed to reinvesting in infrastructure.

The committee also approved two lease agreements, looked over proposed zoning codes, and was informed that the fleet maintenance RFP is being reworked for next month’s meeting.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.