City discusses rental license program

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Wednesday, December 1, 2004

SUPERIOR, Wis. - The city of Superior is considering a program that would enable officials to inspect apartment buildings for fire violations beyond common areas.

The proposal would also include inspections of one- and two-unit rental properties for the first time, as the existing law allows access to multi-family buildings.

“We didn’t have a mechanism to get in and do these inspections,” Fire Chief Steve Gotelaere said. “We do already inspect multi-dwelling buildings, but we don’t inspect apartment units.”

Under the program, property owners will have to allow the city to inspect not only common areas for compliance to local and state fire ordinances but also 10 percent of the rental units within each building. For apartment buildings with two units, an inspection of one apartment would satisfy the requirement.

The proposal is now under discussion and was scheduled to be further discussed at the council’s meeting in mid-November. The council could vote to make the proposal a law as soon as the first Tuesday of December.

Some of the factors driving the proposal include a practice by landlords cited for violations to transfer ownership of their properties without correcting problems.

“There is definitely a need for it and a demand,” said City Councilor Kevin Norbie. “The city is fed-up with the status quo of letting landlords to keep playing this shell game with their properties.”

Norbie also pointed out that the new law would help protect tenants who complain to the city about building deficiencies from reprisal from their landlords.

“Landlords have to prove to the city that their properties are up to snuff,” he said.

The proposed program calls for property owners to pay a $50 license fee for up to two apartments, with the cost of additional licenses on a sliding scale. The monies generated from the program will pay the salary of a full-time inspector and a clerk that will handle paperwork as a result of the new rule.

“This program will be self sufficient,” said Norbie.

Located less than 10 minutes from Duluth, Minn., just across Lake Superior, the city’s population is approximately 27,000 and there are nearly 5,000 registered apartments.