Opelika Council set to vote on Rental Property Registration and Inspection Program

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OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – Tuesday night, the Opelika City Council is slated to vote on a proposed Rental Property Registration and Inspection Program. If passed, the ordinance requires Opelika landlords to make properties livable and up meet basic safety standards. However, local realtors are concerned the ordinance is overreaching, places an undue burden on landlords, and makes it harder for families to find affordable housing.

Under the new proposal, properties would be inspected every three years by the city or when renters change. Landlords would pay a $5 fee per unit every year to register their units and $50 for each inspection. Allowing renters to move into an unregistered property can result in fines and the inability to rent out a unit.

“To be habitable, they have to have hot and cold running water, heat in the winter, no plumbing leaks, ensure all electrical is safe and in working order, so it’s really about making sure those basic necessities are present and safe,” said Matt Mosley, Opelika’s Planning Director.

In a letter to the city council, The Lee County Association of REALTORS shared their opposition.

“We appreciate and echo your efforts to protect tenants, prevent blight and bolster property values. These are important objectives to us as well, but we believe the current proposal has serious problems. The Act unfairly burdens rental owners, the majority of whom are small business owners, with vague definitions, broad requirements, and inadequate protection,” wrote the organization.

Mosely says overall, Opelika property renters are doing an excellent job maintaining healthy standards for families. However, Mosley says some properties associated with the city’s 4500 rental units need additional oversight. The ordinance is designed to protect families from unsafe living conditions.

Opelika resident and realtors Will Faulkner says the city is overstepping and hindering private property rights.

“We do not need this ordinance to protect our citizens. I understand the intent to make housing better and more inhabitable, but this is not the solution. There are multiple programs through the Alabama State Housing Authority and Housing and Urban Development to protect tenant rights. By increasing the costs of property ownership, all you will do is increase rent costs. Thus, making it harder for tenants to find suitable/affordable housing. Not easier,” said Faulkner.

Mosley says the ordinance is designed to make implementation seamless, with the low fees. The ordinance is similar to others across the state and is not a revenue maker for the city. Additional inspectors will be trained to make sure properties are inspected promptly.

“We have worked with a group of landlords to look at our property maintenance codes. Everybody needs a safe place to lay their heads at night, and we feel like this provides an opportunity for everyone in the city to have a safe place they can call home. There are always concerns with the unknown, but we have a track record of working with our landlords and realty companies. We will make sure this is as simple, straightforward, and user-friendly as possible,” said Mosley.

Ryan Roberts is a local realtor and current president of the Lee County Association of Realtors. He’s asking the council to vote no on the ordinance or delay it.

“Please consider how this will overall affect property values and moreover the citizens of Opelika. We’ve had extensive research and discussions within the Local Association of Realtors and the Alabama Association of Realtors, and the consensus has been made that the passing of this ordinance as written would be detrimental to the residents of Opelika,” said Roberts.

Roberts says the ordinance would increase rent, displace lower-income residents, and attacks affordable housing. In addition, Robers says it conflicts with Alabama Tenant Landlord Law and the Federal Fair Housing Act. Roberts also sees the ordinance as a violation of private property rights, increased liability for property owners and managers, and real estate agents. Finally, Roberts worries about a negative effect on rental investment purchases, turnover time waiting on inspections creating lost revenue and tenants, and inconvenience.

Roberts hopes the council will postpone the vote and move to involve more stakeholders to create a draft of what he calls a “workable” ordinance benefiting all.

The Opelika City Council is slated to vote on the ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting on September 21st.

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