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A look inside rental registry in Iowa

Omaha leaders will discuss inspection programs
Posted: 6:13 PM, Sep 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-28 23:13:44Z

After unsafe and unsanitary living conditions left 500 residents at Yale Parks Apartments without a home, city leaders are exploring the idea of a landlord registry.

The Omaha city council's planning committee is expected to hold a special meeting Tuesday to strategize for ideas.

Neighboring communities such as La Vista have ordinances on the books.

In Iowa, a state law mandates cities with a population of more than 15,000 must have a rental home inspection program. 

But Council Bluffs took it a step further, according to Steve Carmichael, chief building official for 10 years.

"Now, we actually schedule the inspections and send out our own staff to do those," he said, meaning landlords no longer hold the inspections themselves.

The city made the switch about 3-and-a-half years ago, Carmichael said. 

The move came on the heels of deadly fires on rental properties which were not registered, he said. 

For the city, the incidents became a matter of safety. In the beginning, the city worked to register 11,000-something properties. Just last year, according to Carmichael, the number on the registry is somewhere around 9,300. His staff department is made up five, including himself, and they inspect about 10 to 12 properties per day unannounced. The compliance checks are good for three years.

The department also serves an impartial enforcer, meaning both the landlord and tenants are responsible in their respective roles. If a rental property successfully completes a compliance check, then the tenant is responsible for maintaining standards. Otherwise, just like landlords, tenants can too be slapped with a citation.

It took some time for landlords like Steve Shoemaker to warm up to the idea. 

He's been a landlord for nearly 26 years with just under 35 properties under him, he said.

"I was against it, believe it or not," he said.

Then, he eventually started to welcome the extra pair of eyes despite the extra fees.
     
Over the summer, Shoemaker gives credit to an earlier inspection for noticing how former tenants tampered with the smoke alarms in a rental. More than a month later, he said the house caught on fire caused by a candle. The family of five managed to escape.

" I don't know what would've been of this if they didn't have these inspections," Shoemaker said. The house is currently uninhabitable. 

I could live with a house burned down, he said, but not if people are dying.