You’ve Passed a Rental Registration Ordinance…Now What? (2 of 4)
We’ve already covered why rental registries are valuable tools to help local governments ensure safe housing conditions, but the process of implementing a rental property registration or inspection program can seem daunting. For municipalities that had no oversight of rental properties prior to passing an ordinance, it can mean the added responsibility to register or even inspect tens of thousands of units of housing. And more often than not, we’ve seen these put into place without the addition of new administrative or inspectional staff.
So how do you tackle such a huge, new responsibility? Desmond Tutu once said, “How does one go about eating an elephant? You eat it one bite at a time.” This is true. But before you start, we think it’s also important to know how big the elephant is, and which parts will go bad soonest. In today’s post, we’ll talk about how to quantify the potential population of rental properties.
Step 1: Quantify
“How many rental properties are there in my neighborhood?” Most residents are shocked to learn that their local officials can’t answer that simple question. Business owners are required to be licensed to operate a nail parlor or a beauty salon for health & safety reasons, but prior to the passage of a rental ordinance, landlords in most communities could operate without any form of oversight.
But with some quick analysis using the property tax roll, local leaders can gain a better understanding of their rental housing stock. Typically, there is data on the owner of every single property of record along with a mailing address for tax purposes. By identifying those properties where the owner’s mailing address differs from the physical property address, city officials can build a list of presumptive rentals.
Then, using the property use code (also called the ‘current use’ field), the list can be further whittled down to include only Residential properties. In many locales, there are sub-types within the Residential category that include Single Family, Two-Family, Three-Family, Multi-Family, Apartment, or other designations. These can be useful for a couple of reasons. First, Two-Family and above are usually very likely to be rental properties, whereas some Single-Family property owners may list a different mailing address for tax purposes while maintaining full- or part-time residence at the property in question. Second, many ordinances we’ve seen exempt Single-Family rentals from the registration requirement or start at Three-Family and above.
In BuildingBlocks, we’ve incorporated standard short-cuts for non-owner occupied properties that already apply this logic and keep it up to date, so our users can click a single button and pull up all probable rentals. As part of our QA process, we cross-reference what BuildingBlocks says with American Community Survey data on housing units. We have also built out more advanced filters that factor in utility billing information and other indicators to flag potential rentals, where our partner cities have requested them. Only when local officials can easily quantify the number of rental properties and map them to understand where they are geographically concentrated can they start the process of ensuring compliance with the new ordinance.
For some of our partners, particularly in smaller communities where the number of rental properties is in the high-hundreds to low-thousands and compliance is voluntary, this is enough information to get them started. They simply use the Mail Merge functionality in BuildingBlocks to export a mail-ready list of property owners and their addresses for outreach. As registrations come in, they are logged and tracked within the BuildingBlocks application, so periodic outreach can be targeted only at non-compliant owners.
Stay tuned for our next post on how to prioritize outreach for registration, licensing, or inspections using data available in the property tax roll and other systems that local governments are tracking today.