Ames Rental Association Presentation to Ames Mayor and City Council 29 September 2010
Who are Ames Landlords? • We are your friends and neighbors • Collectively we own and rent 1,000s of apartments and homes in Ames • In Ames there are: • Over 1,000 Owners • Over 10,000 Rental Units • We provide a place to call home for over 25,000 tenants • We pay in excess of 12 million in property taxes
HISTORY How we got here . . . On February 1, 2008, a meeting of primarily landlords, owners, and neighborhood representatives were invited to City Hall for a “Conversation About the Neighborhood.” A list of approximately 25 items were identified as needing further discussion. A Rental Housing Advisory Committee (RHAC) was formed by Chief Peterson to address those items. The RHAC met throughout the remainder of 2008 and discussed each presented item with tremendous city employee input. During this time, not only did the list grow from approximately 25 items to 75 items, but absolutely no public input was allowed. Landlords were lead to believe at this time that changes would be minimal (if they had received LOCs previously, then the required changes wouldn’t be too overwhelming). A 51 page report was presented to council for consideration in November 2008. It was adopted over objections by several property owners. Chapter 13 became effective July 1, 2009. A large number of the individuals that sat on the RHAC also make up the Property Maintenance Appeals Board (PMAB) leaving many individuals leery that the board will defend the code rather than hear appeals objectively.
PRESENT TIME Where we are now . . . Approximately one year after Chapter 13 has taken effect, many unintended and cost prohibitive consequences are blatantly obvious. The cost-to-benefit ratio is skewed significantly. Most landlords do not feel anyone was listening to or addressing the tremendous financial strain that was being placed on them by Chapter 13 and the interpretations thereof. The Ames Rental Association (ARA) was formed to provide a “voice” for landlords, hoping for recognition and support from the city to correct the “unintended consequences.” A letter-writing campaign led to two open forums where landlords were allowed to express concerns to the PMAB. The ARA presented a list of specific, proposed changes to Chapter 13 at the second of these meetings. The PMAB then met to review the proposed changes. Again, absolutely no public input was allowed. On almost all topics, the PMAB voted in unison to reject landlord requests. It is important to note that at this time, only a fraction of landlords have been inspected and we already have many serious concerns being expressed.
Ames Rental Association GOALS Create a uniform voice and networking opportunities for Landlords Build and maintain a working relationship of trust with the City of Ames Achieve safe and affordable housing for both tenants and landlords. Provide resources and educational opportunities for members
How the ARA is meeting its goals We have attempted to follow all requested procedures and present our ideas professionally. We have established a website that (although in its infancy) provides a place to share information, learn of educational opportunities, and receive support from other landlords. We have a “tenant background check” portal on the website where members can access a third party vendor that provides extensive tenant credit, criminal, and background information. Why the ARA requests these changes It is a fact of business that if costs associated with doing business rise (in this case: dramatically), those costs get passed on to the customer. If we don’t make significant changes to Chapter 13, many rental units will either raise rents considerably to cover the costs or simply go out of business, either of which hurts landlords and tenants alike and has the potential to hurt the entire city.
Ames Rental Association Proposed Changes to Chapter 13 of Ames Municipal Code …as originally presented to the Property Maintenance Appeals Board with added notations and explanations
Sec. 13.108. MEANS OF APPEAL (1) Application for appeal. • Increase appeal time from 20 to 60 days. • Substitute the word equal for increase in paragraph (c). • This is a minor request that does not seem to cause any harm and is self-evident. • In contrast to traditional businesses who have open doors 8am – 5pm weekdays, landlords are often individuals without “business hours” and/or supporting staff. As such, landlords may need additional time to understand inspection requests and realize that they need to present an appeal. • Thank you to the PMAB for changing the wording to reflect an “equivalent” degree.
Sec. 13.301. LETTER OF COMPLIANCE (LOC) (6) Expiration. • Remove paragraph (b). Allow letter of compliance to run its course. • We cannot find a reasonable cause to end an LOC due to change in ownership. • Our proposal would lessen the pressure on the inspections department. • The purpose of an LOC should be safety of the tenant, not protection of the buyer. • The Real Estate industry already has processes in place (home inspections and commercial building inspections) for this purpose. • The point made in this section of Chapter 13: “..if the inspection division cannot have an inspector out to do the rental inspection before the current LOC expires, then the LOC continues to be valid until the inspection can be done” should be a general statement included at the beginning of Chapter 13 and not only in the section about properties being sold.
Sec. 13.302. RENTAL INSPECTIONS • Remove paragraph (7) • We struggle to understand why another inspection and an additional inspection fee needs to be performed/charged when many times these occur within the same calendar year.
Sec. 13.302. RENTAL INSPECTIONS (10) Tenant and Landlord Responsibilities, Interior cleanliness. (b) Owner responsibility: • Remove the word “clean” throughout. • There is no law that requires a tenant to be clean. • When a landlord enters into a lease, he/she legally gives up certain bundles of rights to the tenant. To have the landlord’s livelihood hinging on tenant actions that the landlord has no legal right to control, is simply not right. Tenant cleanliness is legally beyond the control of the landlord. • Clean has been interpreted by inspectors as “must have no clothes on the floor.” • A state of cleanliness (or being uncleanly) is not a permanent condition.
Sec. 13.402 PRIOR APPROVALS SHALL CONTINUE – CONDITIONS • Remove paragraph (3)(b) • Records referring to previously allowed conditions (retroactive conversion permits, board variances, and/or administrative approvals) were under city control and the city has conceded that they have an incomplete database. • Owners may not have saved this information believing their LOC was adequate proof of a previously allowed condition. It is also likely that ownership has changed and records were not provided to the new owner. • The inspections department maintains permits related to water heaters and furnaces on A5400 software. They, and the LOCs have traditionally been kept for 5 years or until new ones are issued. • Some agreement should be reached to accommodate conditions that have met the standards over time and/or had a previously allowed condition. • David Brown’s comments suggest “inviting” landlords to participate in finding these documents. It would be interesting to hear what efforts the city is putting forth to locate these records.
Sec. 13.402 PRIOR APPROVALS SHALL CONTINUE – CONDITIONS • Remove paragraph (3)(d) and substitute: (3)(d) A continuing letter of compliance shall constitute evidence of acceptance of lawful existence as outlined in the code (i.e. UPC). • Remove paragraph (3)(h) • We stalwartly believe that if an existing property (property A) is deemed okay based on any “grandfathering” method (whatever it may be), then it must meet a “lowest approvable threshold” or the threat to life would be too great to allow it to continue. That being said, a new rental property (Property B) with a similar situation must be allowed to continue or discrimination against the value of life of tenants in Property A is occurring. • It is entirely unrealistic to believe that a property not built in 2010 will ever meet 2010 standards. That does not mean the home is unsafe. d rentals treated same as previously registered rentals
Sec. 13.403 PRIOR APPROVALS SHALL NOT CONTINUE - CONDITIONS (1)(b) General. Gas fired appliances. • Delete the words “or open directly into” • Add the sentence “Unless equipped with power vent technology”. • New technology improves safety of these appliances. Where direct vent is a plausible solution, such can and should be allowed. • Please eliminate the need for 2 walls with doors between furnaces and a bedroom. One wall is enough. • Just because something was built prior to rental does not mean it must be illegal. Most buildings in Ames were built under different codes. • The desired end result of venting is to provide fresh air into the combustion appliance as well as ensure positive venting to prevent carbon monoxide exposure. This can also be achieved by a fresh air inlet in the combustion room with power vent, or by direct vent sealed combustion. etc.
Sec. 13.403 PRIOR APPROVALS SHALL NOT CONTINUE - CONDITIONS (1)(c) General. Automatic Fire Alarm System • Remove the words “Retrofitting” and “pre- existing” and add the word “new.” • Application of the new building code makes sense on new construction. But requiring retro-fitting on existing buildings does not have a cost/benefit ratio that makes sense. It is simply unbearable in this economic climate. • Please require in new construction only at this time.
Sec. 13.403 PRIOR APPROVALS SHALL NOT CONTINUE - CONDITIONS (1)(d) General. Driveway approaches. • Delete this requirement. • Thank you to the PMBA for supporting this issue. This was a costly requirement with no real safety/health benefit. • No real health & safety basis, purely esthetic. • Eliminate concrete approach requirement when driveway is gravel. • Include in overall property maintenance code if desired. • The City of Ames has gravel streets in portions of the city. • Another item to note is that our cultural climate considers “green” methods to be superior. Gravel is far more green than concrete.
Sec. 13.406. EXTERIOR PROPERTY AREAS (8)(b) Approval of pre-existing parking areas. • Delete paragraph (Rearrangement need not comply with new parking standards.) • We would like wording that allows rearrangement without application for such. Sometimes rearrangement provides better use of space. Example, it may be more plausible to use a rectangular rather than square parking area. As long as the overall square feet of parking is not changed, it should be of no consequence.
Sec. 13.406. EXTERIOR PROPERTY AREAS (10) Maintenance of Detached Garages, Sheds. • Add the word “leased” All leased accessory structures… • The rental code should apply only to rented structures. • David Brown’s position in his comments do not fully describe the situation. If a piece of property is specifically excluded from the “lot, plot, or parcel of land” then the Landlord has maintained rights to said property (it isn’t being rented/leased). • If a property is not being leased (excluded specifically on the lease), it no longer falls under the rental code. Not adopting our request takes Chapter 13 outside the bounds of its jurisdiction.
Sec. 13.407. EXTERIOR STRUCTURE. (3) Protective treatment - paint. • Delete this paragraph. • There is no quantification on what is deemed peeling, flaking or chipping. This section is too ambiguous to apply. • Oxidation is ongoing and frequently a desired effect. • If the City of Ames wishes to impose such a requirement, it belongs in the overall Property Maintenance Code so that it applies to all homes in Ames. • Paint is more cosmetic than safety oriented (unless lead-based paint). If not lead-based paint, then it is purely aesthetic. • For the complaint that “homes with poor exterior maintenance decrease property values” to be useful as an attack against our request, then all homes would have to be held to this standard – including owner-occupied. • It has been reported to us by the inspection department that two-thirds of all exterior maintenance complaints are made against owner occupied homes, not rental properties.
Sec. 13.407. EXTERIOR STRUCTURE. (11)(i), (11)(ii), and (11)(iii) Stair rise and run - exterior. • Delete 3/8 and substitute “1” in (i) and (ii) • Delete ¼ and substitute “½” in (iii) • Stringent new building codes allow for some settling and movement to retain safe use. • This has been interpreted by some as the quantity of variance allowed over an entire staircase. • Homes built 20-50+ years ago will struggle to meet this code. Please set a reasonable standard because if we have to start rebuilding staircases over ‘portions of inches,’ the landlord, be default, becomes termed a remodel and opens the issue to all sorts of new requirements. • Older buildings simply deserve greater tolerance. • Perhaps additional consideration to wording to better define a clear way to measure (entire staircase or from step to step) can be added.
First Step approx. 3¾ inches Second Step approx 5⅝ inches Difference of 1⅞ inches
First Step approx. 5 inches Second Step approx 6¼ inches Difference of 1¼ inches
Sec. 13.408. INTERIOR STRUCTURE (1)(b) and (1)(c) Interior Surfaces - Paint, Occupant & Owner Responsibilities. • Remove the word “clean” • As mentioned previously, “clean” is difficult to interpret and most people have differing standards. • An LOC should not be withheld because a tenant keeps a dirty/messy house by another’s standards. • Refer to all other reasons previously mentioned.
Sec. 13.408. INTERIOR STRUCTURE (2)(a) Stair rise and run - interior. • Replace 3/8 with one inch in (i) and (ii) • Replace ¼ with ½ in (iii) • Reasons outlined previously when discussing exterior maintenance apply here as well. The concept, when brought indoors, is even more concerning because it is considerably more likely to cause landlords to begin a full-blown, unintended “remodel.”
Sec. 13.503. Occupancy Limitations Limits Based on Unit Height and Room Areas • This is a difficult topic. City zoning codes are strict and can be very difficult for landlords to support without breaking Federal FHA guidelines. • Due to the changing use of housing in the “campus town area,” a medium or even high density zoning would be more appropriate in these areas. • Landlords have purchased and maintained homes with the understanding that they will bring in a determined quantity of income. When one or two roommates are excluded due to low density zoning, it can mean (and has meant) $100,000 of lost income in just a few short years. • Des Moines has a 2 person per bedroom rule. Other communities have used a formula of “x” number of people per “x” number of finished square feet. That is enforced in owner occupied and rental homes alike to avoid conflict with FHA guidelines that prohibit discrimination based on familial status. • If a one bedroom unit can have 3 unrelated persons occupy it (regardless of zoning), then certainly it is reasonable to deduce that this limitation has nothing to do with health and safety. What a wasteful attitude this is; it lends to more rental units, more utility usage, etc.
Sec. 13.600. PLUMBING RESPONSIBILITY. (3) New Work Must Comply with current code. • Remove words “repaired or replaced” and insert the words “involved in remodeling” (talks about plumbing items). • 2009 UPC allows lawfully existing installations to be repaired with like kind under 102.2, 102.3, and 102.4 when in accord with original design. • UPC 2009 does not require upgrading under those sections mentioned above. • Similar paragraphs were deleted from Ames Building Code Chapter 5 and will be restored when UPC Chapter 1 is adopted on Tuesday, 9-28-2010. • When something is deemed truly unsafe (ex: lead-based paint), they are taken off the market. But many of the plumbing items being required to be changed are a) functioning perfectly as designed and b) still being sold in stores. (Items that are truly unsafe are recalled and pulled off shelves all the time.)
Sec. 13.602. TOILET ROOMS. (3) Floor surface. • Reword: Every toilet room floor shall be a surface that allows such floor to be easily kept in a clean and sanitary condition. • Executive style homes have carpet in their bedrooms as a matter of design and style. Many ‘higher-end’ homes are becoming rentals due to the uncertainty in and sluggish of the real estate market. A blanket statement requiring exclusion of all carpet in bathrooms can decrease market value and seems unnecessary. • Where are all the news articles and angry parents because their children are sick due to carpeting in their bathrooms? • Are we inferring that renters are more likely to urinate on or misuse carpeting than owners? To say so would be speculation and politically demeaning to tenants.
Sec. 13.702. MECHANICAL EQUIPMENT. (6) Furnaces/re-circulated ventilation air. • Delete entire text and replace with: The use of a single furnace serving multiple dwelling units within an existing registered rental structure where air is circulated through more than one unit may continue. • No evidence has been provided that single furnaces are a health & safety issue. • Hospitals have single HVAC systems that serve multiple rooms. • Requiring more stringent and more frequent checks on shared air furnaces does not make sense. A shared air furnace is no different than another furnace. • ‘Shared utilities’ (including HVAC) is an increasing trend across the nation, so much so that special computer programs are marketed to split out utilities in common utility situations.
Sec. 13.704. ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT. (5)(b) GFCI Outlets in Kitchens and Baths. • Add the words “within six feet of a water source” • The “Six Foot Rule” has been the standard for some time and is the standard adopted by many cities in Iowa. Spaces beyond 6 feet do not carry with them the same risk of electrocution.
Section 13.801 MEANS OF EGRESS (3)(b) Above grade egress windows • Please provide alternate wording • Please provide alternate wording allowing current windows to remain in place without need for an application for pre-existing condition for all older homes (currently serving as rentals and those that may be made into rentals in the future). • Denial for ‘renting’ these homes drives prices for all residential properties down, including single family homes not being used as rentals. Concurrently, it drives the price of existing rental housing up. This is a serious affordable housing issue. • Some “wanna be sellers” have been allowed a LOC by the city (recently) conditional upon getting replaced within a year. Reality is, those landlords will either sell or seek an extension. The city attorney has now forbid that practice entirely. • Landlord example: “Why does the rental across the street have windows just like mine (or inferior) and they can have a LOC but I can’t?”
Sec. 13.802. FIRE PROTECTION SYSTEMS. (2)(b) Smoke detectors required. • Delete (in all bedrooms) • New dual detection technology detectors are improved and resolve the problem. • Tenants frequently disable many detectors. That is a tenant problem, not the landlord’s. • Sometimes existing requirements are four detectors within a 5’ radius. This is wasteful and unnecessary. • This current requirement as stands exceeds state and national standards. • History: When this requirement was adopted in Ames, the state allowed regular smoke detectors. Approximately one month later, the state increased standards to require dual phase, photosensitive detectors that are sold at almost 5x times the price. Chief Peterson stated this was “definitely repeal-able given the unforeseen change in state requirements when the Ames code was adopted.
Sec. 13.802. FIRE PROTECTION SYSTEMS. (3) Portable Fire Extinguishers. • Remove “2-A; 10-BC “ and replace with “1-A; 10-BC.” • Insurance companies prefer we advise tenants to leave the building and call 911 rather than stay and fight the fire. • Many large companies require only employees that have been specifically trained on the 2-A; 10-BC extinguisher to be allowed to use them. • Chief Peterson has said on multiple occasions that the best thing to do with a fire extinguisher is to throw it at the fire as you are leaving the building. With that notion, and having over 10,000 rental units in Ames, let’s throw $10 at the fire rather than $30 – a difference of $200,000 collectively. • Larger extinguishers may be more difficult for elderly and children to use. • Larger 2A units may provide a false sense of security which could lead to unqualified tenants staying to fight a fire rather than getting out of the building.
Sec. 13.802. FIRE PROTECTION SYSTEMS. (4) Emergency access key boxes (Knox boxes). • Remove the last sentence applying to existing units. • Cost and security are issues if boxes are not part of the original building design. Please only apply to new construction. • In the case of a fire, it is more likely that the fire department will break the door with an axe than search for a key. • Chief Peterson told the PMAB that the smallest knox box costs about $300 prior to installation and upkeep. This seems a large cost for something that isn’t likely to be used. • Many older buildings are not keyed to a master. The administrative work that would be required to continually keep a copy of the new or current keys to all units would be phenomenal in older buildings. • Please limit requirement to buildings with secured entrances AND an automatic alarm system because in those buildings, it is conceivable that a door could be saved when the sole reason to enter is to disable a false alarm. • At a minimum, please adopt the PMAB’s recommendation to increase the • threshold from 6 units to 9 units.
Sec. 13.802. FIRE PROTECTION SYSTEMS. (5) Fire alarm system retrofitting. • Remove this paragraph as to older units; continue to require on new construction in building code. • As mentioned previously, cost is an overwhelming factor in the current economic climate.
Chapter 5 Ames Municipal Code Sec. 5.100. TITLE AND ADOPTION. (13)(b) Plumbing. • Retain Sections 101.4 Scope and 101.5 Application to Existing Plumbing System from Chapter 1 of the 2006(9) Uniform Plumbing Code • Propose to restore following language • 220.127.116.11 of UPC was wrongfully deleted from Ames Municipal Code Chapter 5. There should be no change of existing plumbing required if installed in compliance with a prior code and is not unsafe. • 2009 UPC Chapter 1 corrects the error. • 101.5.3 of UPC was wrongfully deleted from Chapter 5 of Ames Municipal Code. Repair of plumbing systems in accordance with original design if it was lawful at the time of installation and is not a hazard, is allowed.
Restore following Language: • UPC 2006 • Chapter 1 • 101.4 Scope • 18.104.22.168 Existing Construction. No provision of this code shall be deemed to require a change in any portion of a plumbing or drainage system or any other work regulated by this code in or on an existing building or lot when such work was installed and is maintained in accordance with law in effect prior to the effective date of this code, except when any such plumbing or drainage system or other work regulated by this code is determined by the Authority Having Jurisdiction to be in fact dangerous, unsafe, insanitary, or a nuisance and a menace to life, health, or property. • 101.5 Application to Existing Plumbing System. • 101.5.3 Existing Installation. Plumbing systems lawfully in existence at the time of the adoption of this code may have their use, maintenance, or repair continued if the use, maintenance, or repair is in accordance with the original design and location and no hazard to life, health, or property has been created by such plumbing system. • Under 2009 UPC the controlling sections are 102.2, 102.3, and 102.4. The • problem will be resolved on 9-28-10 when the new code is adopted.
Propose to add following wording … • “Evidence of inspection of the premises by a duly appointed representative of the City of Ames shall constitute satisfaction of the “lawfully in existence, accordance with original design, and compliance with the code” clauses as referenced in 102.2, 102.3, and 102.4 of the 2009 UPC. • This wording is intended to clarify intent and provide the Inspections Department a legal way to allow existing plumbing to remain when it is functioning as intended and not causing any apparent danger to life, health, or safety. • We need a simple method to cure situations where the city has purged files of retroactive permits, board variances, and administrative approvals when neither city nor owner have a copy of the authorizing documents. • Our intent is not to allow unsafe conditions, but to protect landlords from unfair complications when they have met previous requirements for a variance but it cannot be found. • Surely we can find a fair way to achieve this goal.
We thank you for the special allocation of your time and respectfully request the following tonight: • Given the results of the three work sessions of the PMAB (which you will shortly see are by-in-large not in our favor), we respectfully request work sessions with city staff and PMAB which would include open dialogue. We recognize the time and effort invested by the PMAB and city employees to respond to our requests and do not mean to belittle their work, but would like to revisit, with open dialogue, many of the items (yet to be determined). • For these reasons and many others, we are also respectfully requesting a moratorium on enforcement of the ARA requested changes to Chapter 13 until further discussion can be had.
We look forward to working with you, our neighbors, colleagues, and friends, as we preserve Ames as a safe, affordable, and enjoyable place to live and do business.