It’s been almost three years since Lakewood City Council first began talking about updating its policies on vacant and rental properties.
Then, last July, council proposed an ordinance to overhaul the rules. After some debate — and lots of tweaking — council passed the ordinance at Monday night’s council meeting.
“I think it gives everyone more tools in the proverbial toolbox — everybody from fire and police to building and housing, to a councilman who gets a complaint on the telephone,” said Council President Mary Louise Madigan “It’s a very big deal, and it holds people responsible for their property.”
The ordinance has been discussed in committee for almost a year. LoveLakewood reported that council put the issue on hold last year while the administration and city council braced for changes following election season.
“I think we needed to focus our efforts on addressing challenge properties,” said Dru Siley, the city’s assistant director of planning and development. “This is the realization of those efforts by council, the law department, the building department and by the mayor."
The ordinance’s passage comes on the heels of new US Census data that shows that the number of vacant properties in the city have nearly doubled since 2000, from 1,723 in 2000 to 3,224 in 2010.
Madigan laid out some of the highlights of the legislation at Monday’s meeting:
For vacant properties the legislation means that:
- Requires — for the first time — the registration and licensing of vacant properties.
- Requires license fees for vacant properties and monitoring fees for nuisance properties. Both are subject to late fees.
- Broadens the information required on the vacant-property license application to include liability insurance information; a certification that utilities have been disconnected and that the property has been winterized; the combination to a Knox Box-type rapid entry system permitting our fire officials quick access in the event of a fire.
Regarding rental properties, Ordinance 55-10 will:
- Require updated license fees for certain housing licenses, subject to late fees.
- Broaden the information required on housing license applications to include certification that an applicant has a written rental agreement for all tenants; uses a reputable screen service; and attended a landlord training session approved by our building officials.
Housing licenses will now also include:
- Information on the in-state person on whom the city can serve legal process; information on the location of the property manager, agent or trustee, and the person responsible for grass cutting and snow removal.
- Information to protect against overcrowding and tax avoidance.
- Certification that each unit is equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, that no electrical hazards are present, and that there's hot and cold running water servicing the unit — among other safety-related certifications.
The ordinance also voids licenses if the licensee was found to have been a chronic violator of our building code and if the property was found to qualify as a criminal activities nuisance property within the prior two years, according to Lakewood Law Director Kevin Butler.