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Decatur officials could require residential landlords to buy business licenses, helping the city to identify owners of rental properties like this one at 1101 10th Ave. S.E. that had high grass, shoes on the roof and a trash bag hanging from a tree.
Daily photo by Chris Paschenko
Decatur officials could require residential landlords to buy business licenses, helping the city to identify owners of rental properties like this one at 1101 10th Ave. S.E. that had high grass, shoes on the roof and a trash bag hanging from a tree.

Landlords
beware of blight

City mulls business licenses for renting residences

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

Residential landlords, especially those with run-down rental properties that are a nuisance, would be easier to find if Decatur required them to buy a business license.

Michelle Jordan, director of the city’s Community Development Department, said she has spoken with Decatur Mayor Don Kyle and City Council President Billy Jackson about the matter.

“All we’re doing now is exploring the option,” Jordan said. “It would be a tool to help our department with properties that need a lot of attention, and we’re finding that a lot of the properties we’re dealing with are rental properties.”

33% of homes rentals

Jordan said 33 percent of the residential dwellings in Decatur, or 7,901 homes, are rentals.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the properties that the city demolishes, the property owners don’t live here,” Jordan said. “And we’re dealing with these kinds of properties more and more.”

David Lee, a code-enforcement officer with Community Development, said finding a local contact or property manager for an absentee landlord is almost impossible.

“There are owners of multi-unit complexes that live in California, and it’s hard to address the issue long distance,” Lee said. “If they were required to register, we would know who owned it, and the number of units, and have a contact for a responsible owner for the property.”

As it stands, Lee said, the only contact they have with absentee landlords on the West Coast is through the mail.

“But unless they contact us back, we have nothing to go on,”

Lee said. “We have to make trip after trip to the property, research utility records, try to contact a tenant. There’s just not a lot of records we have access to.”

Other particulars, like whether the city would require all residential landlords or just those with multiple properties to register, and how the city would enforce the matter, haven’t been discussed in detail, Jordan said.

“I’m thinking that a license document with contact information would mean a better line of communication with the property owner,” Jordan said. “Hopefully, a lot of issues with the property would be cleaned up in a more timely fashion.”

Jennifer Cowen, who rents a house from her mother, said the requirement wouldn’t be necessary for everyone.

“I’m paying her to live at her home, so there will be some income for her,” Cowen said. “I don’t think it is necessary to be licensed if you rent a home from a family member.”

Blake Robbins owns multiple properties in Decatur and received a weed, junk and litter citation Friday at 1101 10th Ave. S.E., one of his rental homes. The tenants didn’t cut the grass, left six shoes on the roof and hung a bag of trash on a tree in the backyard, all visible from the Decatur High School football field parking lot.

He said requiring local landlords to buy a business license wouldn’t be necessary.

“I think for local owners the city knows how to contact us, and it’s not a problem,” Robbins said.

As for the citation, Robbins said, someone cut the grass late Friday.

He also said he intends to demolish the dilapidated storage building on the property.

Mayor Don Kyle said he thinks the license requirement would benefit the city.

“I think it’s reasonable when you’re not just letting a child stay in an extra house you own,” Kyle said. “But if you own more than one or two rental properties it is a business, and it’s reasonable to be treated like a business.”

Kyle said he would support the measure, not just on grounds of making it easier to contact landlords.

“It’s a business proposition,” he said. “And government usually looks to business to contribute to the upkeep of community.”

Ronne Harvell, city revenue supervisor, said a similar measure was considered in 1999, the same year the city revamped its business-license requirements, but the City Council didn’t implement it.

Decatur requires commercial landlords to obtain business licenses, Harvell said.

Cities across the country already require residential landlords to obtain business licenses, including Springdale, Ark., which implemented the measure last month.

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