Government & Politics

Rental-unit inspections, registration would be required under proposed ordinance


Editors’s note: Less than a day after this story was published, a spokesman for Cantrell told The Lens that the council member planned to delay introduction of this ordinance.

City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell says she will introduce an ordinance this week that would require many landlords to register their properties with the city and pass an inspection every three years. Although Cantrell plans to bring up the matter at the City Council meeting on Thursday, a number of important details have yet to be decided, such as specific housing standards and the fee for inspections.

About 53 percent of occupied homes in New Orleans are rentals, according to the most recent Census estimate. However, many would be exempt from the registry because it doesn’t apply to owner-occupied properties with one rental, such as a double.*

A draft ordinance, obtained by The Lens on Friday, would create a searchable public database of every rental property in the city covered under the program. The database would contain the property owner’s name, the rental property’s address, any violations or complaints and whether its registration is up to date. The program would be phased in between January 2016 and January 2018, with large apartment buildings and units with recent code violations required to register first.

In order to comply, landlords must submit to an inspection of at least 15 percent of the units on each property once every three years. The units would be randomly selected by the inspector.

One-unit rentals would be subject to inspection and registration if the property owner doesn’t live there.*

The development of this ordinance was news to the head of the Apartment Association of Greater New Orleans, an organization that represents the owners of 36,000 apartment units in the metro area. There are about 78,000 rental units in the the city.

“I don’t want to comment because this is the first I’m hearing about this,” Executive Director Tammy Esponge said Monday afternoon when contacted by The Lens.

Cantrell said her goal is to increase the number of quality rental units in the city.

“Rents have risen dramatically in the last 10 years, but the conditions of the rentals have not even come close to keeping in line with that pace,” she said.

James Perry, director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, which has long pushed for a rental registry and provided input for the proposed ordinance, noted that other cities, including Dallas, Seattle and Los Angeles, as well as the state of Tennessee, have enacted similar programs.

“The basic idea is, think about if you’re going to open up a store that sells widgets on Magazine Street, you have to go through a permitting process,” Perry said. The new law  would apply a similar process to rental housing, he said.

Perry said his group regularly receives complaints about rental units that don’t meet current building codes, but “the process for a renter to deal with that is extremely arduous.”

It’s unclear, however, just what standards would apply under the new registry. The draft says only that a minimum standard of habitability would be “consistent with guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Quality Standards,” used to evaluate public or publicly subsidized housing. The ordinance leaves specific rulemaking up to city Code Enforcement, which would administer the program and hire contractors to perform the inspections. And the draft language leaves questions as to whether inspectors would be evaluating properties based on an entirely separate, and possibly more narrow, set of standards than the city’s general building codes.

“Having systems that are connected and talk to one another — that’s a problem too,” Cantrell said. “They could actually be doing both.”

She said she the final ordinance will contain specific standards for evaluation.

Cantrell said that the Code Enforcement Department, which is already overloaded with thousands of inspections and violations per year, doesn’t currently have the capacity to administer the program. That’s why the program would be phased in over three years.

Cantrell said a fee for the inspection hasn’t been set, but that she intends for it to be nominal so as not to cause rent increases.

At least one other council member has questions about the program.

“I reiterate my position that this ordinance is not ready for introduction next week,” Councilwoman Stacy Head wrote in a Friday email to her colleagues, obtained by The Lens. In the email, Head said she was told only on Thursday that the ordinance was close to complete and was unaware of who was involved in discussions on it. “The lightning speed with which this is moving as well as the apparent insular nature of the discussion is disconcerting.”

Head also objected to a provision that would create a blanket exemption for all publicly subsidized housing.

Cantrell said her goal is to require inspections for all subsidized properties currently not subject to regular inspections.

*Correction: The original version of this post said the ordinance would not apply to owner-occupied properties with one or two rental units; it should have said it would not apply to owner-occupied units with one rental unit. The story has been corrected. (Feb. 2, 2015)

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About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.

  • boathead12

    Hrm. As a rental property owner this sounds like a big pain in my tushie. However, as a neighbor of some rat infested termite heaps, this would help to compel those owners to either shape up or sell out, so I do like that. I wonder if rental properties held by faith based non-profits be held to the same standard as others?

  • nickelndime

    When I first read this article, my first impulse was to throw LaToya under the expressway amongst the homeless and starving. Now that I have had a couple of hours to mull it over, I am 100 percent sure that my first impulse was the correct one. Throw LaToya out. This city is going to hell in a handbag and LaToya wants us to pay for the trip. No thanks, LaToya. Now that LaToya has cleared the air of smoke, I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW! 02/02/2015 8:23 PM

  • Nolaresident

    LaToya wants to only make sure there are **quality** rentals in the city. Quality equaling a f thousand a month or more for rent. Think of those South of Market things. And if you can’t afford that, well maybe it’s time you just move out of the city.

  • nickelndime

    Please stop, “Nolaresident.” You are cracking me up. The last time I suggested dropping Walt Leger D-New Orleans – off in the 7th Ward by the cemetery and telling him to “run like hell,” a commenter said that I was being too harsh, insulting 7th Ward residents, and suggesting violence. That is untrue. I just wanted to “clock” the guy. Now, it’s LaToya’s turn. Let’s put LaToya in Nadine Ramsey’s District and “clock” her. 02/02/2015 10:40 PM

  • nickelndime

    Run LaToya Run! LMAspO! (that’s my pet snake ASP) 02/03/2015 12:54 AM

  • Nolaresident

    Hey it’s difficult to come up with these screen names! LaToya would probably be ok in the 7th ward if she brought hubby with her. He’d have some “bargaining chips” in his suit pocket, wink-wink.

  • nickelndime

    I am looking at LaToya . Da broad can’t run. No wonder she worried about smoke. She can’t breathe. Oh
    well! Put LaToya down at the cemetery. Let’s test LaToya’s survival capabilities when she out of da limo and “on foot” in Nadine’s Ward. I m not sure I want to see this. 02/03/2015 1:09 AM

  • nickelndime

    Haha –
    I m falling over! 02/03/2015 1:12 AM

  • Privateer

    Wow, so an open door to city inspectors for the rest of your life if you have a rental. That sounds like a fantastic idea. City inspectors are well known for being both reasonable and cost efficient. Please come into my PRIVATE PROPERTY and tell me how to own it.

  • Privateer

    I have a hard time believing you “own” a rental property. You think letting a government official into your private property for “inspection” and paying an extra tax on it for the rest of your life is a good thing? Just watch as your requirements change from smoke detectors ,to wider doors , to different railings, to “the newest breakers”, to better paint, to more modern plumbing to, more outlets per wall. You think that’s not going to happen and that’s “just over the top”? Well that is already code for new construction and it just takes the stroke of a pen. Just watch how this morphs. It can change any year after it’s adopted. The laws for keeping up property are ALREADY on the books. Just ENFORCE the CURRENT LAW. Oh, you can’t? Well then lets just get more people to be put on a list who have to sign up and pay. If they don’t sign up then THEY are breaking the law. This is about PRIVATE PROPERTY. This is as anti-American as anything I’ve seen in this city.

  • boathead12

    Man, you give that tinfoil hat of yours a workout! All of my rentals are decent places. Several have at one time or another been subjected to the Section 8 inspection process and were compliant, so I’m not quite as fearful of this process as you seem to be. Perhaps you own one of the heaps in my neighborhood. If so, it would be a crying shame if all this government intervention became too much for you and you were compelled to sell out.

    Enough. I have no time for those who see property ownership and their desecration of that property as their Jah given right. You are the community custodian of the property for a time, and you have an obligation to do right by the community.

  • Privateer

    Well here’s some time I took for you. First of all, you call me crazy, then you declare I’m a slumlord without provocation after declaring that you aren’t. Read my post, I never mentioned anything about the quality of your supposed rentals. But I will say it is possible you doth protest too much. You then go on about an accusation of my “believing in the “right” to desecrate property ” as if you’ve established a personal and viable point which you never did. Let me start here; you don’t know the first thing about me or who I am. But you’ve shown quickly who you are. You cannot argue on the argument’s merits so you must vilify the commenter. That’s rather typical of a person who is both slow on the uptake and without a firm base to argue. You state that you have a problem with private property ownership being a “right”. Wow, I think you need to look into the most basic reasons that our country exists. Freedom of religion (including atheism) , right to own property, escaping taxation, and to pursue a good life , ring any bells at all in your belfry? You think that’s silly and old school? Please look around the world at societies that quietly remove these rights over and over and see how the people are doing. No, I’m not a republican, just incase you want to jump there for you next barb (you’re so predictable). I’m an artist and a preservationist and I probably put more time into rebuilding housing every week than you do in a year. Also I’m not some conservative nut job. I’m not against public television, public schools or poor people yada yada… Unlike you apparently, I just was taught to be a person who works their butt off to make a living by a father, mother and grandfather who did the same thing. Once I’ve worked for it and paid for it with my taxed earnings, the govt. doesn’t have a right to enter it without justifiable CAUSE. Suspecting your smoke detector is bad doe NOT meet that burden. I was also specifically taught not to rely on any person or government to take over the providing for me or my family-or TELLING me how I should do so. Since you redily admit to already having been on the government dole to pay these rentals you say you own, I understand why you are for this because you trust the government to help pay your bills. I don’t, …what do you think of that? You chose to have your property on that list by taking money. Here’s the difference-There is NO choice with this ordinance and WE have to pay THEM! I think that there are many other reasons for a good government and lots of places it is needed. My HOUSE (and any private homes for that matter) are not those places. My point is specifically that ALL of the laws that require safe and good living conditions exist. That’s what a C of O is for. If somebody is letting a place fall apart then report them. Please tell me the new government regulation (when it comes to people’s immovable private property) that the government is in charge of that works for anyone. We are not talking about a store, we are talking about homes. If we were talking about only large multi unit buildings then maybe there would be some discussion. But we are talking about as small as double shotgun’s. For that matter what if you own a single house and rent it for whatever reason. The gov.t gets to come into it and walk around too? If you think that a run-down housing needs to be dealt with (which I agree with) ,the laws are there. Get off of you butt and start reporting blight regularly then do follow up. Also, buy some bad property and fix it. I do all of this and continue to do so. Just to clarify, your position is: if the existing laws are not being enforced correctly even though there is an agency for this and it is funded you think everybody should be taxed more even if they have no relationship to the problem. You think it is better for private individuals to be on an official list of private property they own and subject to a regular uninvited mandatory INTERIOR walkthrough inspection by the government for as long as they own it without any cause. It’s a good idea that If you don’t sign up for “the list” then YOU are breaking the law and should be fined or prosecuted. That’s what you are fighting for? Have you even bothered to read the draft? Dumb question, of course you haven’t. There are no solutions to the problems therein , just fines and endless red tape and lawsuits. Again , and I repeat because its so unbelievable, you think that a city inspector should enter a private home (that has no public funding) that is being rented to private individuals and families in order to take care of them? Man…There is a REASON that this is not legal. It goes against a right to privacy, unfettered ownership , and countless other rights that apparently you think are a joke. Try to look at it this way, —not from the owner’s standpoint but from the tenant’s . These proposed laws are not laws just for people on govt. assistance or taking govt. funding.. these laws are for everybody. Have you even bothered to consider that there are TENANTS who don’t want strange people much less city employees in their home walking around? Have you considered the dual burden of having to be present during inspections in a private apartment? Are the owner and the tenant supposed to take the day off to meet an inspector like a cable man? When a violation is found, what if the TENANT caused the “damage”? Will they be evicted? Will they be fined? Will they say it wasn’t them and then will the owner be left with the immediate burden and fined for it. It just doesn’t work. I choose to live here because I have a RIGHT to privacy. So do tenants. These ideas being considered are anti individual rights, anti private property and simply illegal not to mention an improper tax masking as help. To use your word, ENOUGH. I don’t have time for short sighted, name calling, straw man arguing like yours.

  • James Amerson

    A double on one side of our house has been divided in 7 apartments and there is no parking for any of the cars. Two doubles on the other side have also been divided into multiple units. I count 4 working electrical meters on one of the houses and three on the other. Again, these house offer no parking. That is on one block on one side of the street. What if every single double in town divided up their properties into more units than originally intended? Where are the cars going to park? Where will all the garbage cans be stored? I know, stupid practical questions that really aren’t important right? Once you live among that mess it will become important. Homeowners surrounded by rental property is not fun.

  • teachtofish

    “Perry said his group regularly receives complaints about rental units that don’t meet current building codes, but “the process for a renter to deal with that is extremely arduous.”

    Then, instead of creating an entirely new bureaucracy, why not make the process easier to enforce existing codes?