Muncie’s city council has killed the idea of a public landlord registry. But on Monday night, city officials introduced another proposal to accomplish the same result. As IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, it’s all about cleaning up Muncie’s rental market.
“As one of the realtors I talked to said, put it very eloquently, ‘Something needs to be done, but this isn’t quite it.’ And so at this time, I would like to withdraw Ordinance 48-16.”
That’s Muncie city councilwoman Nora Powell.
Late last year, she sponsored an ordinance that would create a publicly searchable database of who owns what rental homes in Muncie, making landlords pay a small fee to register each home they own and issuing fines if they do not register.
The idea isn’t new – a state law passed in 2014 gave cities the authority to do this. But on Monday night, Powell withdrew that proposal.
“You know, when you’re trying to combat a problem with blight and with absentee landlords – which is what we’re trying to do – you don’t want to penalize people who are trying to make an honest living. And so, you know, it just seemed to me that there were a lot of hoops that people had to jump through with this registration ordinance. And it wasn’t morphing in the right direction.”
City attorney Megan Quirk instead introduced something new – sort of.
In 2006, the city passed a law saying that a renter has to be given a tenant agreement, stating who owns the home, who lives in the home, and other vital details. That document is supposed to be filed at each rental house or apartment.
The new proposal would require landlords give a copy of that agreement to the city every single year – or whenever a new lease with new tenants is drawn up. Quirk says there isn’t any new paperwork for the landlords to fill out and there will be no registration fee.
“This tenancy agreement and affidavit of ownership – you would need to have that on file at the house already. This has been the law since 2006. All we’re asking for is a copy of what you as a landlord already have on file.”
During public comment, many of the landlords who spoke were still against this new idea. Walter Jones worries about privacy.
“We’re voting on them to get our information. That’s what we’re voting on. She didn’t come out and clearly say that, but exactly.”
Some worry about the work it would take them to file paperwork with the city with each new tenant. And some, like Dan Cridle, worry that the city won’t really solve the real problem.
“I’m wondering if part of this is to help enforce the landlords who aren’t doing a good job, or who aren’t responding to complaints or whatever. My guess is those will be the same landlords who won’t comply and turn this in.”
Other landlords told the city council that dealing with that many rental agreements would be something the city staff is not equipped for.
Quirk says a rough city estimate showed about ten thousand “parcels” of rental properties. But some – like large apartment complexes that count as one or two parcels – have hundreds of apartments. An agreement for each unit would have to be filed.
The new proposal passed on its first reading with a 6-3 vote. It will get a final vote in February.