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Old 01-29-2008, 09:00 AM  
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Rental rules meeting

Did anyone happen to make it? Want to give a summary? I'm just recovering from the uber-cold that has hit town and didn't think it would be very polite to sit through the meeting hacking...
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Old 01-29-2008, 10:25 AM  
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I was too sick to go too, but I'd love to hear a factual, non-emotional recap of the meeting if someone was there.
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Old 01-29-2008, 04:21 PM  
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Well by now you may have read the SMDR article or you can watch News 8 website or read the article on www.Newstreamz.com

It is becoming very clear that the Board of Realtors and landlords control this town. All the big campaign contributors of the Mayor were there and spoke out against any rental property standards. If anything has a chance of passing, we all need to call the Mayor since she controls the majority on council.

They insisted that they should have no responsibility whatsoever for the conduct that takes place in their rental property and that the city should hire more code enforcers and police to handle the problem. They claim that it is unconstitutional, yet it is used in college towns all over the country.

If you think this is a problem it is now completely in the hands of the Mayor.
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Old 01-29-2008, 06:23 PM  
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Great Post !! And I totally agree. the board of realtors and landlords scratch the mayors back and she scratches theirs! Why cant people take responsibility for people that they rent to? This whole thing really hacks me off !!




Quote:
Originally Posted by swisher View Post
Well by now you may have read the SMDR article or you can watch News 8 website or read the article on www.Newstreamz.com

It is becoming very clear that the Board of Realtors and landlords control this town. All the big campaign contributors of the Mayor were there and spoke out against any rental property standards. If anything has a chance of passing, we all need to call the Mayor since she controls the majority on council.

They insisted that they should have no responsibility whatsoever for the conduct that takes place in their rental property and that the city should hire more code enforcers and police to handle the problem. They claim that it is unconstitutional, yet it is used in college towns all over the country.

If you think this is a problem it is now completely in the hands of the Mayor.
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Old 01-30-2008, 09:28 AM  
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I think it is premature to say what will or will not happen. The board of realtors and the landlords have some influence, for sure. I would expect no different in a town with 60% rental properties.

I'm taking careful note of realtors who show up in opposition to any effort to fix this problem and I just won't use them when I sell my house to get the hell out of this mess.

Still, the problem needs to be solved and I am not yet convinced that it will not be solved. Right now, the burden is on the neighbors, to quietly mind their business and tolerate the problems. In order for things to change, some of that burden will have to shift to the renters and/or the landlords. So obviously, either group will scream bloody murder when there is any discussion of holding them accountable.

If anyone is serious about growing this city, the problem will be addressed.
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Old 01-30-2008, 11:00 AM  
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A Response to Citizen

First of all I attended the meeting and it was a bloodbath. The Fire Marshall quickly lost control of the situation. While I agree that the mayor is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Realtors, I don't believe that this proposition is the answer either. To wit, I attempted to respond to Citizen's commentary, but this site wouldn't let me post it, so I will post it here:

Dear Citizen,

Cleary you haven’t done your homework regarding fees. You are only partially correct, and “partially” is probably a “generous” word choice. According to Draft Six of Chapter 32 Residential Rental Property Licensing and Inspection, Section 32.1520 (b), “ A fee of seventy dollars ($70.00) per premises plus twenty dollars ($20.00) per rental unit is required (example a duplex unit is $90).”

That error would be forgivable if it were the only fee, but there is also a flat $200.00 operational permit for multi family units in Section 32.1520 (c), a $50.00 Test fee for Licensed Maintenance Person in Section 32.1520 (d), a $25.00 transfer of rental property registration in Section 32.1520 (d), a $25.00 change of status fee in Section 32.1520 (d),a $10 annual non inspection fee, in Section 32.1520 (e) Late fees ranging from $25.00 to $200.00 in Section 32.153, and re-inspection fees from $150.00 to $300.00.

So, a small-time landlord, owning a duplex and living on one side of it, could incur an initial $90.00 fee annually, not seventy. Let’s say he decides to become a licensed repairman. Now he’s out $150.00, not $70. The following year, assuming he passes inspection, that same landlord will incur a $100.00 fee, not $70.00.

Let’s continue and say he fails to pass inspection and must get his property re-inspected once. His annual fee cost will be $240.00, not $70.00. And that’s “Fees” were talking not “Fines.” And if you accept the accounting equation Income Minus Expenses Equals Profit or Loss, then for the Landlord to break even or make a profit, which is his motive here, those fees get passed onto the tenant. I’m sure in this town where sixty percent of people live below the poverty line, an extra $20.00 a month sounds appealing to a struggling renter.

Citizen, you then go on to assert “Landlords do not want to be responsible for their tenants. They think they should be able to rent to whomever and then make their tenants neighbors and the police deal with their bad tenants.”

As it already stands under Texas law, landlords can be held responsible, in fact liable, for their tenants’ behavior under certain conditions. Their remedy would probably require eviction, which will usually lead to more hostility, property damage, court costs and lost rental income. Consequently, this ordinance duplicates already existing laws, and since landlords themselves face added expense from problem tenants it’s in their best interest to screen applicants. Unfortunately, they have to do it in a nondiscriminatory way, making the job more difficult, and it costs money, something even some to many landlords find in short supply. Perhaps they are short changing themselves, but even I, a former long-time renter, doubt that most landlords are thinking about sticking it to their neighbors or police when they are filling a vacancy with just anyone.

Even an onsite landlord, such as the duplex owner I described above, regardless of how much of a fascist control freak he is, can possibly control all of the possible thousands of potentially criminal acts, such as those described in the San Marcos City Code, The Texas Penal Code or even the United States code in his tenant. He lacks the authority and jurisdiction to do it, even if he is a victim himself. Who does? The police! It’s their job. In this instance, what can the landlord do? Evict? He still has to call law enforcement to do that, assuming he doesn’t have to go through the 90-day process to do it. And how do you know that it’s actually the tenant at fault here? It could be a guest or even a stranger. Should the property owner be responsible in that case?

Furthermore our fair city spent over a million taxpayer dollars last year to fund the code enforcement department. We haven’t even been able to guage their effectiveness, according to the Fire Marshal at Monday’s task force meeting. Clearly, certain citizens don’t feel that they are effective, nor do they think the police are. So, you’re asking the same people who are in charge of two failed jurisdictions to create another? Most would agree that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is insanity.

Citizen, you claim that these types of ordinances are effective, precisely what wonders have these types of ordinances worked? And why aren’t any of the places in Texas? What kind of laws were already in place, and what kind of laws were lacking? I’m just curious. By the way, sweeping, unsupported generalizations are not usually considered effective rhetoric.

Citizen, you go on to cite Wayne Becak of the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce, who said that it would prevent people from buying rental properties here, and try to refute him by saying: “Perhaps it will make San Marcos unattractive to non-local investors but it will improve local investing of rental property. A lot of our problems with bad renters are from investors who live out of State and could care less who is renting or what troubles they are causing.” This is impressively mistaken.

Texan property owners rent many of the problem properties, including Sagewood. Some are from Austin, Dallas and Houston. The gentleman who owns and rents the house next door to lives in Fredericksburg. One of his tenants, otherwise quite law abiding, owned a red-tagged junked, vehicle. His current replacement is a drummer. Is the landlord responsible? Does that make him a “problem” property owner?

I rented from a family who primarily lived in Austin. Does that make him a “problem” property owner? Far from it and in fact I happily stayed there for six years. I also rented from two locally based property owners and they were far worse. It was because of one of them that I got quite a liberal education in real estate law, which is why I know that Landlords can be held liable for the behaviors of their tenants. The other’s rather relaxed views of maintenance inspired me to buy a house.

Citizen, had I known that this type of regulation would be coming so soon, I never would have bought my house, which is a duplex. At the time it made sense to buy a house with rental property in order to defray costs like the mortgage, utilities, property taxes and insurance, but with this type of legislation, the same purchase would have made less sense. I’m sure other locally based landlords will now consider selling their properties.

The question remains: who will buy them? Not everyone in this town earns the kind of money necessary to buy these properties and many could wind up in the hands of the University, effectively removing them from our tax rolls and thus emptying the precious local economy. And what happens to property values in the event of a mass sell off? They drop.

How will that effect you and the value of you biggest investment, Citizen? Don’t own? What will happen to your rent when the fees are passed on, more tenants are forced out of their homes and the supply of rental properties drops? What happens when businesses refuse to come to San Marcos? What will that do to our local economy? Oh, I’m sure we’ll hear more whining form you.

And I’m glad you mentioned the bottom line, Citizen. Let’s examine what happens to the hypothetical duplex owner I mentioned above. For the sake of argument let’s assume he’s charging $500.00 a month for rent, all bills paid. He grosses $6,000.00 per year, which would sound rather nice. Unfortunately, he must pay utilities, insurance and property taxes, which could reduce his gross by about $250.00 a month or $3,000.00 annually. Half of his gross is gone, netting him $3,000.00, which is only half as attractive. Then he must pay the $90.00 annual fee and decided to become a licensed repairman, costing him another $50.00. His net is now $2,860.

His property finally gets inspected and is found to be in violation. The fine is the maximum, $2,000.00, leaving him $860.00. This does not include court fees. For the sake of argument, the landlord fixes the mess promptly and must submit to another inspection, which costs him another $150.00, leaving him with $710.00 at the end of the year. Almost 90% of his gross is already gone and we haven’t even covered what it cost to remedy the problem or do ANY routine maintenance. My best guess is that if the violation is that steep, the remedy will easily exceed the remaining $710.00, resulting in a loss.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the tenant caused the violation. The landlord stands to lose $1,500.00 in lost rent, assuming a 90-day eviction, plus court costs, repair costs, makeover costs, advertising costs and screening costs. It seems to me that the landlord is already being hled responsible for his tenant’s bad behavior and certainly liable. The new tenant will also likely face a much steeper security deposit. How does $2,000.00 sound?

Continued...
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Old 01-30-2008, 11:00 AM  
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I read the proposed ordinance and would be opposed in the current form. It treats all landlords pretty much the same whether you rent out a room or an entire complex of apartments. I think the realtors have a point in that the city needs to enforce current laws including state nuisance laws which allow cities to sanction tenants and landlords, who rent to tenants who repeatedly break the law. It sounds like the problem is the city has let some renters slide on breaking the law, because they are afraid of looking like they are targeting students. In the olds days cops didn't have to go to parties twice very often, because we knew if they did someone was going to jail. If they came back a third time, well let's just say that's when someone got a busted head and a resisting arrest charge. I'd reccommend using the tools at hand before hassling all the landlords of every stripe in town.
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Old 01-30-2008, 11:01 AM  
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A response to Citizen Part 2

Now, keep in mind that according to Section 32.170, “Each act of violation and each day upon which violation shall occur may constitute a separate offense.” In other words, this could get expensive and quickly.

Who would want to rent in that environment? The landlord will either have to raise his rent steeply or go out of business. Who would want to invest in that climate? A San Marcan, whose median income is lower that that of someone from Austin, Dallas or Houston? Clearly, locals won’t invest, and this is no solution to our growing problem, despite your misguided assertions and sophistic arguments.

Do you want a solution? Try asking the university to cap enrollment, attract more responsible students or focus on grad students. Try asking the Economic Development Council to attract better paying jobs that are also environmentally responsible. Demand that the code enforcement officers and police actually do their job and fine the people who are directly responsible for the problems.

Or you can do what I did when I got tired of dealing with crappy landlords and move. And don’t think I’m not still considering it.

Post Scriptum: I am neither a member of any Realty Board or a supporter of the Mayor.
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Old 01-30-2008, 11:40 AM  
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Maybe Brad can tell us, but the Newstreamz story said that it was only going to apply to owner who had 3 or more rental properties? That's not something I had heard before (and something not in the SMDR story) and an important fact in determining my support or not.

I've expressed hesitation about this ordinance before. Not because I think that there aren't problems that this town needs to address. Absolutely there are. I have a big problem with the way it is being sold. Proponents that I've heard keep saying it's to help protect the health and safety of renters, and then turn around and say it's an attempt at addressing the Sagewood issue. Which is it? Be up front about the goals. That kind of duplicity makes me suspect about the real goals and how evenly it will actually get enforced. Say what you will about the realtors, but they do have a potential point about the legality. It depends on exactly how the ordinance ends up reading, and we don't know that yet. (Swisher, I'd like to know of some of these towns. I've lived in a few college towns, and have never run into anything similar.)

My other major issue, is that most of the rules needed to address the issues are already on the books, and not enforced or enforced inconsistently. I don't see any reason to add another layer of bureaucracy that isn't needed. My taxes are already higher than they were at my house in Austin (for a lot less service from the city). Even with the homestead exemption. I really doubt the fees collected from this ordinance will cover the true management costs. I'd like to see the numbers. Landlords can already be held responsible for unruly tenants. Landlords can already be cited because of trash or unkept yards. We already have a noise ordinance. It goes through the tenants first, but in the end it is the landlords which are liable. If that isn't happening (which I don't think it is), then it's a problem with enforcement, not a problem with the codes on the books already.

I don't plan on renting my house out, so it probably won't have much of a direct effect on me, but it seems like another bad attempt at addressing a real issue. Well, real issue if they'd be honest about what the goals are. They aren't even directly addressing the issue they want to. It was pitched to me (by one of the task force members) as a way to protect renters, but it is in fact an attempt to deal with one or two neighborhoods in town. I want to see this town grow in a responsible manner, and to do that we are going to have to address problems openly. I don't think the current way this ordinance is being couched does that.
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Old 01-30-2008, 12:09 PM  
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All very interesting comments and plenty to think about. As someone who has been stuck in the middle of this for a very long time, I have a few replies for Dan.

Asking the university to do anything is an exercise in futility and frustration. It was a wonder that Denise Trauth toured the Sagewood neighborhood at all and her only noteworthy comment was that most of the renters weren't even college students. This, even after some of the student renters they spoke with commented that the problem was the neighbors' faults for buying homes in "party central".

I'd love to see some better jobs here, especially since I have to commute over an hour each way to find work in my field, at my level on the corporate ladder. However, I believe it is problems like this (among many) that keep those businesses away. If the employees (read: senior management) don't want to live here, the employers don't want to be here.

Also, I'm not sure what better paying jobs will do to fix Sagewood, as the highly paid employees will most likely live in Willow Creek or Blanco River Ranch, not over by campus.

Demand that people do their jobs and hold offenders accountable? Done that. Many times. The last time, you may recall, it cost one supporter her position on City Council and almost cost another his, for "comparing students to prisoners", which is about the most ridiculous interpretation one could come up with for that discussion.

Move? Many of us would love to, but it's tough to sell a house in a bad neighborhood and a lot people don't have enough equity built up, given the stale overall market, the stagnant conditions in San Marcos and the problems in the neighborhood. I wish I had a dollar for every house I saw each month with a "price reduced" sign.

Here's a thought. Maybe if some of these landlords and concerned citizens had shown up in the beginning and stood with us and tried to find a solution, instead of ignoring the problem or railing against us and using this as a platform to get "downtrodden students" better representation, maybe we would be discussing a more equitable solution from day one.

But they didn't. They left a small number of homeowners, with a horrible problem, to do battle with an ineffective government and an indifferent university. So, you'll have to forgive us if we did not take into careful consideration, those who ignored us (or stood against us) when we raised this issue over and over again.

Now it's your problem too. Thanks for finally taking an interest.
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