BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN About 30 people attended Tuesday’s Delano City Council meeting, with many of them speaking against a proposed rental housing ordinance.
The ordinance would establish a license for landlords, who would have to pay to register and have their properties inspected. It would also create fines for violations of the ordinance.
It was tabled, likely until Tuesday, July 17, in order to give staff time to fine-tune the ordinance. Individuals can also submit input in the meantime.
Before the discussion and tabling of the item, City Planner Alan Brixius provided the background for why the ordinance is being considered.
He noted that a similar ordinance had been proposed in 2006, but not approved.
“We were asked to revisit this issue based on observations made on various properties in the city,” Brixius said. “We have had issues with housing conditions, yard conditions, outdoor storage, and other issues. These have been observed by city staff and council members.”
He added that citizens have also complained about the condition of some rental properties and that emergency personnel have found public safety concerns when responding to emergencies at rental properties.
“The intent is to look at the physical condition of the housing stock and make sure, through inspection and licensing, that we’re providing housing that’s secure, safe, and sanitary,” Brixius said. “We’re trying to avoid nuisance or blight issues for others.”
Properties would be inspected in November every three years, starting with the oldest properties inspected first.
Landlords could utilize a private inspector, whose report would then be reviewed by the city’s building official.
If there are concerns in between inspections, tenants would need to notify landlords verbally and/or in writing and allow 10 days for a response.
There are only three instances in which the city would consider revocation, suspension, or fines:
• operating without a license;
• noncompliance with a corrective order or conditions of the permit; and
• a condition that might cause a threat to safety, health, or the welfare of tenants.
“We want to avoid that at all cost,” Brixius said. “Anytime we do a corrective measure, there is always an opportunity to bring that to the council to appeal. If we make a mistake, you can appeal, and the council can override a fine or corrective measure.”
State-licensed facilities would not need a rental license. Neither would anyone renting to a blood relative. Individuals are also allowed up to two roommates without a rental license.
In addition to the standard rental housing ordinance, the council was also considering a short-term rental housing ordinance for bed and breakfast facilities and vacation rentals.
They are considered small businesses in residential areas, so they would not be able to be physically altered to look different than other homes in the area, occupants would be limited to the number of licensed bedrooms, events would not be allowed, and a minimum of two onsite parking spaces would be required, with no on-street parking allowed, except for in the downtown district.
The proposed ordinances would also adopt the 2018 International Property Maintenance Code.
Throughout the public hearing, several landlords asked the council to deal with problem properties on a case-by-case basis.
Landlords also asked to be a part of a task force to address problems with rental properties, but the council opted not to take that approach.
They also asked why only rental properties would be inspected.
“The difference is a person can live in squalor if they want to, if they own their own house,” Mayor Dale Graunke said. “You’re a providing entity saying, ‘It’s safe to live here.’ . . . You have to have a license to cut hair. There is a license attached to it to make sure it’s done right. It’s checks and balances.”
Councilwoman Betsy Moran added, “You can drink spoiled milk all you want, but Coborn’s can’t sell spoiled milk.”
Bill Fisher asked what percentage of rental properties were posing problems. Neither the council nor city staff had a specific answer, but Graunke offered anecdotal evidence of tenants living without a water heater for two weeks, others living without a furnace for two weeks, and others still living without a furnace for five weeks.
Fisher also said insurance companies regularly inspect rental properties.
“You either fix it, or they won’t insure it,” Fisher said. “I had one with a 15-year-old roof, and they didn’t want to insure it.”
On a different note, he added, “We as a landlord can’t dictate how they live in a unit. It’s not like you can kick them out because you don’t like the way they live.”
Amanda Krienke, manager of Franklin Avenue Apartments, read a letter from that property’s owner, that said the ordinance would increase the cost for all landlords and tenants and would be an invasion of privacy into tenants’ homes.
Regarding intrusion, Graunke said entities such as the gas company and phone company, as well as emergency responders visit homes on an as-needed basis, as well.
“It’s up to the renter to determine if it’s an intrusion to them,” Graunke said.
Mike Dorsey talked about spending $150,000 to renovate four rental properties.
“I can bet most landlords don’t fall into the slumlord category,” Dorsey said.
Jay Braegelmann has experience with rental ordinances in other cities.
“The condition these people choose to live in, we can’t control that,” he said. “I’ve had people take off outlet covers, call the inspector, I pay a fine, and they don’t have to pay rent.”
Jeff Vanderlinde has experience with a rental ordinance in another town, and said he pays $25 per year, though the property has never been inspected. He added that Watertown had a similar ordinance, but dropped it.
He also took issue with landlords having to pay a $350 utility deposit, though council members told him he would need to take that up with the Delano Water, Light, and Power Commission, which oversees Delano Municipal Utilities.
Steve Grotting said landlords take care of the most vulnerable people in the community.
“When the wheels come off the tracks for a young person or someone renting a property, we’re the first ones there to try to help clean things up, get social services involved, and take care of your most vulnerable people,” Grotting said.
“It would seem to me, if there are bad living conditions, there are existing means to address those through social services,” added Luke Bauman, who is a former landlord in the cities of Delano and Minneapolis, and a current Delano tenant.
Councilman Jason Franzen disputed that notion.
“I’ve served on the (Wright County) public health task Force for the last three years,” Franzen said. “Having listened to (Public Health Director) Sarah Grosshuesch and her predecessor, they talk about properties that are dangerous. It is very difficult to get into places that have serious problems. There had to be a lot wrong. You almost had to have a court order to get in.”
Real estate agent Becky Schaust, who made it clear she is not a landlord nor a tenant, said, “It feels like this is a solution looking for a problem. It will penalize landlords and tenants. I don’t know what (building official) Scott Dornfeld’s hours are anymore, but it’s hard enough to get a timely inspection scheduled already.”
Shane Anderson, who builds homes, said Delano has a good inspector who is reasonable, but that he deals with other inspectors in other cities who are not reasonable.
“It’s very much up to the individual building inspector, and I’d be concerned with the building inspector’s interpretation of the code,” he said.
Roger Erickson expressed concern about the 10-day notification language, saying that a landlord could be away on vacation for two weeks and not be able to rectify a problem.
Gene Hunter said if new fees are assessed, he would have to raise rents, which would essentially evict his renters, who are on disability and cannot afford to pay more.
“It’s about $3 per month for three years,” Moran said. “If that causes someone to raise their rent to a point where it’s evicting a disabled person for $3 per month, that’s maybe a stretch to believe, unless there were repeated inspections because there weren’t operational fire detectors or health and safety issues.”
On that note, City Administrator Phil Kern said the inspection fee would cover the initial inspection and a follow-up inspection if there are problems to be remedied.
Moran then suggested different tiers of licenses.
“If you have a quality landlord, quality properties, they look wonderful, their license term should be longer than three years,” Moran said. “ . . . If you’re an A+ student, you sail through. For the D- people, maybe three years is too long.”
Franzen considered the landlords’ testimony “compelling.”
“The idea that we have to leap into your lives like this and make you do something, I don’t like it at all,” Franzen said. “It’s my least favorite thing all year.”
He did not indicate which way he would vote on the issue, however, and neither did any other council member.
Wright County Road 30
For the past six months, city staff has been working with Wright County staff to plan the improvement of Wright County Road 30 from Third Street Southwest to County Road 13.
The council approved a cooperative agreement with the county regarding the project.
The project will involve a new intersection at County Road 30 and McKinley Parkway, along with widening of the roadway.
Wright County will fund 92 percent of the project, while the city will fund 8 percent.
City staff is taking the lead on design, while county staff is taking the lead on right of way acquisition.
City Attorney Mark Johnson has reviewed and approved of the agreement.
Per the recommendation of the Delano Park and Recreation Commission, Delano Area Council on Arts and Culture, and Delano Franklin Township Area Historical Society, the council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Holly Schrupp absent, to approve a public art application from Gabrielle Raye Cordes for public art titled Project Redefined to be located across from the Remax office on Highway 12.
The sculpture would be made out of white picket fencing engraved with words, phrases, and comments from people in the community. It would be maintained for about two years and then dismantled.
Comments from DACAC expressed concerns about individuals being able to climb on the structure, and suggested having the fences spaced in such a way to discourage that. The council recommended moving the structure closer to the labyrinth to encourage more people to interact with it. Another recommendation from the council was to add signage with a QR code so individuals could use their phones and be directed to more information on a website, potentially the city website.
“I personally think the artist can choose either location,” Moran said. “I don’t have a problem with either one.”
She suggested that the city would not need to be involved with any QR code aspect.
The Park and Recreation Commission had hoped it would be a longer-term project, and also wanted to make sure that nothing engraved on the fence would be offensive, threatening, or profane. The commission recommended extending the city’s social media policy to cover the language used on the fences.
The historical society expressed a similar concern.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• heard from Boy Scout Devyn Kimball about his proposed Eagle Scout project to create a raised bed and water feature around the existing monument in front of the fire station. The council advised Kimball to work with Fire Chief Bob Van Lith and get in touch with city staff if he needs any assistance. He plans to complete the project in the summer months.
• recognized outgoing youth liaisons Chloe Lilliston, Lydia Ramstad, and Samson Streachek. They presented about a word collage project they have started that will be completed by incoming youth liaisons Maddie Elstad, Weston Russek, and Simon Streachek, who were appointed during the meeting. The incoming liaisons will be juniors, per the recommendation of the outgoing liaisons.
• authorized the hiring of Samson Streachek to a part-time summer intern position to help fill the position vacated by intern Sabrina Hille, who has been hired as the city administrator in Maple Lake. Streachek will focus on trails, parks, and engineering projects.
• hired Ryan Kalal, John Kenison, Samantha Noetzelman, Nathan Norman, Trent Pete, Nathan Scharpe, and Arnie Smith as part-time staff for the Delano Splashpad and public works department.