Cracking down on landlords who ignore housing code directives and the disorder and blight they cause is the goal of proposed legislation offered by City Council members Doug Emery and John Spatz. The City Council will hold a public hearing on their proposal to increase housing code violation fines at its meeting, which begins today at 5:30 pm.
Housing code violation fines are penalties imposed by judges on property owners who refuse to fix substandard housing issues. The new proposal would raise current minimum fines:
- First offense – $25 to $200
- Second offense – $50 to $250
- Third and subsequent offenses – $100 to $300
The City’s Building and Safety Department routinely sends out thousands of letters every year as a part of the licensing and inspection process according to Jon Carlson, Mayoral Aide for Stronger Safer Neighborhoods. Carlson, a rental property owner in the Near South area, said that the majority of property owners respond promptly.
Carlson gave examples from his own experiences as a landlord. Over the last eight years, Carlson received 43 letters on his 93 units in ten buildings from the Building and Safety Department. Each pointed out issues such as reattaching a gutter down spout or rebuilding a fire escape. Some concerned tenants removing window screens or storing boxes in the hallways.
“In every case, the item was fixed or the tenant notified and the issue was resolved. That’s how we expect property owners to respond,” Carlson said.
Lynn Fisher, President of the Real Estate Owners and Managers Association (REOMA) agreed. “Receiving letters from Building and Safety saying repairs need to be made is part of being a landlord. The good landlords fix the problems.”
“Unfortunately, not all owners respond as promptly as Jon or Lynn,” said Tracy Corr, Chair of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Roundtable. “And when they don’t, the penalties are very soft.”
Corr also is a member of the Lincoln Policy Network (LPN), which request the increased fines. The LPN is a group of neighborhood residents, business and residential property owners, REALTORS and non-profits. The LPN was formed to identify community issues, formulate solutions, and implement plans to change City, County or State policies through new legislation or the modification of existing laws or ordinances.
“Improving Lincoln is in everyone’s interest,” Corr said. “When we come together and speak with a common voice, City leaders and policy makers will listen. The proposal to increase fines is a perfect example.”
Spatz and Emery agreed to co-sponsor the change after meeting with the LPN.
“These fines are way overdue for updating,” Spatz said, noting that they had been in place since 1990. “Neighborhoods need safe and decent housing and strong penalties for those who will not comply.”
Emery agreed and said that the old fines didn’t put enough pressure on people to improve dangerous properties. “It just becomes the cost of doing business for a bad property owner,” he said.
Fisher said landlords support penalties that target bad property owners. “Most owners fix problems promptly when they are notified by Building and Safety,” said Fisher. “The small minority who won’t make repairs give a black eye to the whole rental business.”
Michael Snodgrass Executive Director of NeighborWorks® Lincoln said his organization was pleased to be a part of the LPN. “We are in the business of building a better community,” Snodgrass said. “This change will help that by creating uniformity among fines for building code violations. Currently if someone builds a substandard porch, or repairs it improperly the minimum fine is $200. But if you just let a porch sit, rot and become substandard, you only get a $25 fine. Raising the housing violation fines is fair, focused, and will make housing conditions better for Lincoln.”
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance change July 7.