COVINGTON, KY – Covington is cracking down on bad landlords.
Several legislative changes related to rental property inspections are on the agenda for the City of Covington’s August 4th Commission Meeting.
These proposed changes are part of the City’s ongoing efforts to strengthen neighborhoods and increase property values by proactively address safety issues. Other efforts over the past three years include demolition of unsafe vacant properties in neighborhoods and the establishment of the Residential Rental License program in 2012.
“This is a huge achievement that is exactly in line with the Spirit of Progress Vision Statement adopted by the City Commission this year,” said City Manager Larry Klein. “These changes directly reflect the Vision Statement’s goals of becoming more efficient and effective in the internal operations of the City and investing in neighborhoods to improve livability.”
“The goal is to create safer and better maintained properties in our neighborhoods by sharing information with rental property owners but also placing more responsibility on them,” said Klein.
The changes are the result of the combined efforts of the Department of Development, Fire Department, and Police Department, with assistance from the Legal, Finance and Operations Departments, to provide property owners and residents with information and assistance to help maintain safe and sanitary housing. The City plans to accomplish this by informing landlords when tenants are engaging in criminal activity, alerting landlords to unsafe and unsanitary property conditions, and arming tenants and landlords with information to lower the risk of fire damage.
"Two years ago, City department heads met to discuss long-term goals that would help to move the City forward and improve the quality of life for residents," said Assistant City Manager Larisa Sims. "One gap that was identified was a fragmented system of rental property inspection and enforcement. Three departments were dealing with related issues but not effectively collaborating to make the biggest impact possible."
Since then, improvements to existing programs were identified and processes developed to put those improvements in place.
“We analyzed Police and Fire activity in combination with code enforcement issues all across the City and took a closer look at some of the patterns we found,” explained Jessica Moss, GIS/Business Analyst for the city. “We used that information in combination with best practices in the region and the feedback we’ve received from the community to develop several programs and initiatives.”
The results of these efforts are an enhanced Fire Inspection Program, a merged Fire and Rental Inspection Program, a Criminal Activity Alert System, and improvements to the Criminal Activity ordinance.
Enhanced Fire Inspection Program
Currently, fire department staff deputized as Fire Marshals conduct regular inspections of schools, churches, state licensed facilities, businesses, bars and restaurants, large scale apartment buildings and other similar establishments under the Kentucky Standards of Safety.
The proposed changes to the ordinance extend the application of the fire inspection program to all residential rental property and authorize the Fire Department to impose fees for inspections and violations, in coordination with the City’s Rental Inspection Program.
"Firefighting is about more than putting out fires when they occur," said Fire Chief Dan Mathew, "It’s also about prevention. Enforcement of the Fire and Life Safety codes reduces the risk of loss of life and property and makes our job safer.”
Additional changes include classifying violations as a Class A Misdemeanor, enabling the Fire Chief to remedy any fire hazard conditions at the expense of the owner by imposing a lien, and authorizing a suspension or revocation of a City Alcoholic Beverage Control License due to violations.
Merged Fire/Rental Inspection Program
The City’s current Rental Inspection Program requires rental property owners to obtain an annual rental license from the City for all rental units. The program addresses substandard property conditions, as various exterior property maintenance code violations "trigger" an interior inspection of rental units. When violations are not remedied, the City has the authority to revoke this Rental License and require the property owner to cease renting the property.
Changes to the existing program include the merger of the fire inspection and rental inspection process, annual inspections of rental property common areas, and the addition of common area violations to the list of “triggers” that result in individual rental unit inspections.
A new fee schedule has been added for re-inspections, including a late fee of $60 for rental licenses not obtained by January 15th of each year.
Additional changes include the requirement that rental license applicants be current with all City taxes and fees in order to receive a rental license, a requirement for inspection when an owner has failed to renew their license, revocation of a license if the owner has failed to schedule follow up inspections, and making the penalty for renting without a license a Class B Misdemeanor.
Criminal Activity Violations
The current Criminal Activity Ordinance requires landlords to evict tenants when two criminal nuisance violations have occurred on their property within a twelve month period.
The proposed ordinance revision removes the eviction requirement and instead institutes a tiered fine structure when repeated criminal activity occurs on an owner’s property. Fines increase after each additional offense, with some allowances for rental properties with more than eight units.
In addition to ordinance changes, a new Criminal Activity Alert System will alert landlords when a police call is made regarding their property. Through collaboration with Kenton County Dispatch, all landlords who have provided their email address to the City via the Rental License Application process will be notified when the Police Department is called to their property, regardless of whether an arrest occurs.
"Often, property owners don't realize when issues arise from tenants that necessitate police calls," said Police Chief Bryan Carter. "This program will help to inform landlords of problem tenants so that they can take proactive steps to remedy these issues on their own."
Landlords should contact Jessica Moss (email@example.com) to ensure their email address is included in this notification system.
All of the above changes will be presented for a first reading at the Covington Board of Commissioners’ Meeting at 6 p.m. on August 4th at Covington City Hall. If no changes are recommended, then the ordinance amendments, which include changes to Chapters 91, 110, 155, and 227 of the Covington Code of Ordinances, will be up for a vote on August 18th.