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Committee reviews ordinance on rental properties

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City Councilor Judy Stubbs calls proposed modifications to a city ordinance “pretty innovative” during a Legal Committee meeting on Thursday. Councilor Barry Foster looks over the proposed changes on his laptop. (Alison Penn Photo)

Reporter’s note: This article has been edited for clarity.

The city of Roswell’s Legal Committee last week discussed modifying an existing ordinance to include two articles — one regarding a rental and commercial property maintenance code, with minimum standards; and one regarding rental housing registration.

Roswell City Councilors Judy Stubbs, George Peterson and Barry Foster deliberated the specifics and asked hypothetical questions on the changes to the ordinance. City Manager Joe Neeb and Bill Morris, community development director, fielded questions.

After the questions and discussion, Morris said he wanted to make changes to make sure everyone felt “comfortable” with the ordinance.

The committee decided to revisit the revised proposed ordinance changes at end of the month and no formal action was taken. Stubbs clarified that if the committee chose to approve it at next month’s meeting they would be authorizing the measure for a public hearing.

“This is pretty innovative for Roswell, New Mexico right?” Stubbs asked and Morris agreed. “So in a nutshell, if I’m interpreting this correctly, please tell me, that this an attempt to do what state statute tells you a governing body is to do and that is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our residents …”

Neeb said there are many citizens living “in conditions that they should not be living in.” With the changes to the ordinance, Neeb said the process allows for renters to bring their housing issues to the city, instead of potentially being evicted or forced to relocate.

Rental registration

Morris said “a huge number” or 10,000 of the city’s 19,000 housing units are rentals and later said it is estimated to amount to a little less than half of all units, according to the city’s Affordable Housing Plan adopted in 2016. He explained the intent is to develop minimum standards for rental properties to ensure houses are safe and habitable, and create the ability for the city to inspect these rental properties frequently.

Morris said the idea is to have all rental properties registered with a business license, annually, with the city. He said property owners would pay a fee, get a CRS number (Combined Reporting System) and be registered as an “income-generating property” to contribute to gross receipts tax (GRT). Morris said the process is similar to the process for generating GRT from Ruidoso’s short-term rentals.

Exemptions to the rental registration would be rental complexes, hotels, and assisted living facilities because they have their own state-regulated specific inspection; Morris said the proposed ordinance would focus on Roswell’s single-family units or duplex properties.

Foster asked if commercial realty pays GRT and Morris affirmed, saying businesses pay GRT through their business license. Foster said he understands the inspection and standards, but felt that commercial rental buildings should also go through the rental registration process.

Morris said the main concern is families living in “substandard” residential homes — and people generally do not live in those commercial rental properties.

Inspections

To define minimum standards, Morris said properties must do the following: keep water out, have heat, sewer, potable water, electricity, cooking facilities and have entrances and exits. He said this ordinance is aligned with the international property maintenance code and the minimum standards originate from this code.

Morris said the city is aiming for each unit to be inspected once every 10 years. Morris said property owners do have access to an appeal process if they don’t agree with the assessment of their properties.

Another issue Foster vocalized was the city being selective with the inspectors. Morris said the city would collect a license and copy of the qualifications from inspectors to be considered for approval by the Community Development Department.

Stubbs emphasized inspectors would be trained prior to enforcing the minimum standards. Neeb said the approval process would ensure inspectors are trained in enforcing the proposed ordinance. Conversely, Neeb said the department may “want the ability to exclude certain personnel if they are not able to assist with the enforcement of the agreement.”

Ultimately, Morris said rental property owners go to his department for a permit or another service. He said the inspection will lead to looking at the whole structure.

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