Denison officials are looking to expand the city’s rental inspections policy by adding a new mandatory inspection program. Under the new program, rental property owners are going to be required to have their properties inspected annually for code compliance.
Denison Code Compliance Manager Robert Lay presented the proposal to the Denison City Council during its budget workshop last month and further discussion is expected at the council’s June 3 meeting. Lay said the property owners will be required to register their properties with the city and Denison will inspect the property before a tenant moves in or whenever there is a tenant change.
“For a single family rental home or duplex, the process will be a short form we will have available online,” Lay said. “The fee has not been determined yet. We will be proposing a small fee for the annual registration. That will help fund the inspection program. Specifically if a property becomes vacant, before the next tenant moves in, the property owner would request an inspection while the unit is vacant.”
Lay said the city is looking to do an early registration period but will not begin inspections until January 2020.
Denison City Manager Jud Rex said it is the city’s vision to ensure quality housing for all income levels. Rex said the owner of the rental property would be required to pay the minimal inspection fee.
“The basics of the program are every rental property in Denison would need to be registered on an annual basis,” Rex said. “While we have a number of code enforcement programs in place, we feel this next logical step will help us maintain quality housing in Denison. In addition to ensuring quality housing, it is going to help clean up the neighborhoods.”
With the current complaint-based inspections, Rex said, Denison is only inspecting one or two residences a month. Under the new program, that number would be closer to 80-100 units per month.
Lay said city staff had taken into consideration the potential negative impacts on development of housing. He said staff determined that ensuring residents knew the property they are moving into is safe and code-compliant outweigh the negative impacts.
Lay also said all enforcement will fall on the city’s code compliance division, though the city would add additional staff to implement the program.
The process for apartments will be slightly different than for single family units. The property owner will still have to pay an annual fee on all units, but the city will only inspect a small percentage of units when tenants change. That number would be determined on the number of violations the city finds. Lay said there would also be an increased fine for repeat violations. Lay said if a property fails multiple inspections, the owner could be denied renting that property until all issues have been resolved.
Lay said the program staff is presenting to the council will include three tiers of rental properties based on the size of the property and the number of units. He said the smallest tier will be the basic single family units whether it be a house, duplex or quadplex. The second tier will cover apartment buildings with six to 29 units. The third tier is for larger apartment complexes. Lay said Denison does not currently have any plans for exemptions or different tiers for government subsidized housing units.
“Nothing we’re doing here is unique,” Lay said. “I have visited multiple cities in North Texas that have inspections of rental properties. Some have been doing it for over 10 years, some are just starting out. There are multiple cities doing something similar.”
Rex said the program would cost the city roughly $60,000 to add a code compliance officer in order to ensure inspections were carried out.
Lay presented a proposal that would offer a discounted early registration fee and reduced fees for property owners that were in compliance. Fees for property owners would be raised after the first of the year, he said.
During the budget meeting, several council members raised questions and the discussion centered on how much the city should charge, and whether the price should cover inspection costs or be just enough to raise money.
“Until we get out and inspect to see what the problem is, it is hard to say what we will see,” Rex said. “It will put us in more homes. If any of them are not in compliance, those issues need to be resolved before tenants can move in. It will have some immediate impact but it will take time to see the lasting improvements.”
Lay said Denison is hoping for a 100 percent compliance by the end of the first year.