The Case for a Rental Property Registration Ordinance
Why have a Rental Property Registration Ordinance
Cities will adopt a Rental Property Registration Ordinance (RPROs) for various reasons, but they generally can be categorized into two buckets: decrease administrative burden on the city and ensure the safety of their citizens. By requiring rental registration, city officials can easily contact property owners or managers when issues need to be addressed. For example, if a Code Officer writes a Notice of Violation due to trash in the yard blocking an exit, the city is more easily able to connect with someone who will be able to fix the problem. Without a rental registration ordinance, many cities run into roadblocks when properties are owned by LLC’s or out of state landlords that do not have easily discoverable contact information. Many cities take a more proactive approach and require occasional inspections of rental properties to ensure the safety of tenants. Issues such as missing smoke alarms, mold, and overcrowding can cause officials to deny landlords the ability to rent a property until the problems are fixed. And a rental oversight ordinance that allows for periodic inspections allows cities to be proactive about identifying these dangerous conditions and preventing potential hazards.
Registration vs. Licensing
A Rental Property Registry requires owners to submit a form detailing a local representative that can be contacted in the event of a problem or emergency. Typically information such as owner name, mailing address, phone number, and email are required. If the owner is out of the area, cities will often require a local agent such as a property manager to also be listed. Registrations require owners to periodically update their information to ensure accuracy. We typically see cities require a small administrative fee per registration or per unit.
Rental Property Licensing combines a Rental Property Registry with proactive inspections. Cities can decide on the frequency of inspections. Some examples of how cities determine the frequency are:
- One-, two-, or even five-year cycles
- New tenant
- Sale of property
The inspections often carry their own fee and failure to obtain the proper license can result in fines.
Additional Benefits of a Rental Property Registration Ordinance
Rental Property Registration Ordinances (RPROs) and Rental Property Licensing Ordinances (RPLOs) come with a few other appealing benefits. First, the fees for registrations and inspections help offset the expense cities incur. It transfers the financial responsibility of maintaining a safe rental stock from all taxpayers to only those who are renting their property. The increased efficiency also reduces the staff hours required to deal with rental related issues, saving the city money.
Furthermore, Rental Property Registrations give officials greater insight into how their city is evolving. The data will help:
- monitor home ownership rates by neighborhood
- spot early signs of gentrification
- Identify problem landlords who are draining city resources
- allocate emergency relief funding
- understand changes in the affordable housing stock and shifts in housing tenure
The Challenges of a Rental Property Registry
Rental Property Registries are very effective at dealing with absentee and problem landlords. Unfortunately, those are the same individuals who the city will need to actively corral into compliance. City officials should build a list of expected rental properties to cross reference against those that have registered. Although 100% compliance is likely impossible to attain, regular outreach can significantly improve compliance. Furthermore, monitoring suspected non-compliant rentals for signs of trouble such as code violations and tax delinquency will allow staff to focus on the truly problem non-compliant rentals.
Cities that are able to pass a rental property oversight ordinance have a leg up both in terms of understanding their housing market and ensuring safe and stable housing for renters. Increased visibility into the rental market reduces costs for the city, decreases health hazards for tenants, covers costs, and allows the city to better respond to a changing housing market.