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Rental housing standards still under construction

By Staff | Jul 9, 2010

Possible new minimum rental housing standards in Estherville have both landlords and renters concerned.

However, those standards have yet to be determined.

The Estherville Rental Housing Committee has met three times with its third meeting on Thursday. The committee began looking at a possible set of standards in its first meeting.

With each meeting scheduled for only an hour, the committee had no time to continue review of those standards at its second meeting when several landlords voiced concerns the new rules would be too strict.

Estherville City Administrator Penny Clayton opened Thursday’s meeting with a few comments saying the rules are to address only life, safety and health issues.

She said normally the standards are created before seeking public input.

“We’ve been getting input before we have the standards,” she said.

Besides Clayton, the committee includes three councilmen, Dave Seylar, John Wittneben and Gene Haukoos. Haukoos is also the Excel! Estherville Housing Committee chairman. Others on the committee are Steve Woodley, Rudi Abel, Sharon Hooge, Dan Duitsman, Matt Popken, John Clark and Perry Russell.

The public was allowed to give comments and ask questions for the first part of Thursday’s meeting.

Larry Loeschen said he was concerned that the program would become too big.

“I don’t want you to create a monster none of us can live with,” he said.

Committee members generally concurred with that statement.

Clayton said the standards are not intended to create revenue for the city or to add additional staff.

However, there are some renter complaints that the city currently can not address.

Clayton, an Estherville area native who returned to the area after working for the city of Fort Dodge, said the committee is looking to create some easy-to-follow rules.

Also, the committee doesn’t want to create any rules that are covered by another ordinance.

“If a house is already under inspection by another governmental agency, we don’t want to duplicate what they do,” she said. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was listed as an example of an agency that does its own inspections.

Another person asked if homeowners would be held to the same standards as rental properties.

The answer was that homeowners have different rights.

“It boils down to a privacy issue,” said Woodley.

The difference is that a landlord is offering something to the general public, Abel added.

Local real estate agent Mike Clarken said he’s talked with officials from three other communities who have set rental standards and the complaint calls have increased.

“Storm Lake has as many as 1,000 calls in a month,” he said.

After closing the public comment portion of the meeting, the committee returned to reviewing the original draft ordinance that the members pared down.

Clayton said they’re trying to create a tool to address the serious complaints. The original draft also had included routine inspections every three years and Clayton indicated that is no longer being considered.

The committee only reviewed the portion of the draft addressing the exterior of a rental property.

At its next meeting, the committee will review the regulations for the interior of rental property.

The next Rental Housing Committee meeting is set for 4 p.m., Thursday, July 22 in the council room at city hall.