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January 6th, 2008
JOHN THOMAIDES' BLOG: Rental permit system can work

(Note: Since this article first ran several months ago, the City Council appointed a group of 7 citizens to review the details of a rental permit system and to produce a plan for Council consideration. They have held several meetings so far and are currently reviewing specifics of a system for San Marcos. Their meetings are open to the public and are held in the city hall conference room. Citizen comments are welcome. They are expected to forward their recommendation to Council sometime in February. — John Thomaides)

By JOHN THOMAIDES

During my time on the City Council, there have been issues that continuously re-surface and we never quite seem to come to an agreement on how to best deal with them. The big issue we are dealing with right now is the Sagewood situation. This area of our city located right off of Craddock Ave. is perhaps the most visible, (and loudest) example of rental property neglect, but certainly not the only part of town that experiences problems.

Make no mistake; I believe that having a thriving and vibrant rental property market in San Marcos is essential to the success of Texas State University and the city tax rolls. Two years ago this same issue was the subject of another long city council meeting where surrounding property owners were asking the city to please do something about Sagewood. At that time we were presented with a set of options, which included a rental permit system or the creation of a code enforcement department, and we chose the latter. At the time code-enforcement was operated during regular business hours out of the planning department and was under staffed and under funded. I can now report that while it is still not perfect, it is much more efficient, innovative, and it does get results. We have made great progress with that part of our solution, however we still find ourselves in a community with a large problem. After our meeting on September 4th, there was a strong consensus on the council to direct the City Manager to begin formulating a rental permit system.

In June I attended the Best Practices in Building University City Relations conference in Gainesville Florida, the host city of The University of Florida. There were about 25 university and city delegations present and it was a terrific resource of information. We learned in our breakout sessions that many cities have the same or similar town-gown issues, specifically the rental property issues. The city of Gainesville, with a population of 100,000 and a university population of 50,000 has instituted the rental permit system, as had many of the cities in attendance. All of the city and university officials with this system I spoke with were pleased with the results and recognized just how difficult it is to begin a permit system and the need to understand that not all citizens will be completely happy with the results. They also assured me however, that they would never consider going back to not having a system like this in place. A few of the rental property program details there are:

  1. The out of town owner must appoint an in-city agent for the purpose of receiving notices from the city concerning the permit.
  2. The city provides the owners with a pamphlet containing information on living in a residential neighborhood and they must in turn provide them to the tenant before executing a lease for the unit.
  3. Rental units where there are repeated violations of ordinances that adversely affect the rights of nearby residents to the quiet enjoyment of their property constitute a public nuisance, and violation of the city’s ordinances, will result in points assessed to that property.
  4. Accumulation of a certain number of points results in a hearing and if the property owner eliminates the problems or terminates the lease, the points will be rescinded.
  5. If the problems are not eliminated then the property is declared a public nuisance, and if the owner fails to comply, permit revocation proceedings will begin.

By dealing with the often more permanent owner of the rental property, this program addresses one of the fundamental issues, which is trying to educate renters that often turn over once or twice a year. With such a great deal of turnover of renters in San Marcos, it is impossible to fully educate, and enforce every city ordinance. Implementation of this system will provide the city with the tools to enforce a reasonable set of standards for rental units and protect the property values of surrounding homeowners and the safety of the persons renting the units. It will send a message to prospective homeowners that this city is serious about taking care of itself and making the town safe and attractive. Most of all, it will finally allow us as a community to come to an agreement and move beyond this issue.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration,

John Thomaides
City Council Place 6
thomaides_john@ci.san-marcos.tx.us

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0 thoughts on “JOHN THOMAIDES' BLOG: Rental permit system can work

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  2. I just read the draft “Residential Rental Property Licensing and Inspection” ordinance. It’s just frightening. The only thing I can think is the committee drafted this thing as a gauntlet designed to bring the landlords to the table. I hope it will have that effect. I sympathize with those living near a disruptive rental property. I’ve been there. But this is overkill.

  3. After attending several city council meeting regarding the Sagewood issue late last year, I took the time to read the noise ordinance. It is a comprehensive ordinance which addresses the issue of nuisance properties and how to penalize the owners.

    At one of the meetings the San Marcos Police Spokesman stated that out of 2000 complaints in the Sagewood area in recent years that there were approximately 200 citations and/or arrests. I asked how many of the 2000 complaints resulted in fines or citations being given to the PROPERTY OWNERS… There NONe——ZERO—(000)— NOT ONE PROPERTY OWNER was fined or cited!!!!!!!!!!!!…..THERE is a remedy in Noise Ordinance (I will forward it to you if you don’t have a copy) that addresses this exact issue, yet it has not been used once in the SAGEWOOD area….. There are clearly a number of property owners that should be cited and then I believe we would start to see a lasting effect…. Before we spend a small fortune creating a new ordinance (pertaining to the property owner) what do you say we try using the one we have AT LEAST ONCE…

    My other suggestion was for the City Council to work with the University to convert the SAGEWOOD Duplexes and 4 plexes into a married student housing area. This would greatly reduce the number of vehicles and eliminate most of the noise issues. I would be willing to wager that the property owners would be very receptive to such a proposition.

    The Newly Proposed Ordinance will penalize all of the property owners instead of those that are creating the problems in the first place.

  4. This is one of my biggest issue with the ordinance. There are rules that would help in problem areas, that aren’t enforced. Yet, we are expected to pony up more of our tax dollars in the hope that this is the new layer of bureaucracy that will finally work? Parties are allowed to go on until 4am+ there, but the cops shut things down at 10pm elsewhere. Fairly and consistently enforce the existing rules everywhere, then lets see what happens. I don’t want to see draconian rules anywhere in town, but I’m very suspicious that there isn’t a backroom agreement to let things go later in Sagewood.

    Converting Sagewood to married student housing is attractive, but the likelihood of the problem just moving somewhere else is high. That is, after all, how Sagewood became a problem. It was just moved from somewhere else.

  5. I urge the City Council to address the fact that the existing ordinance has never actually been used on a property owner in the Sagewood area. How we can consider any other approach until the Noise Ordinance is actually enforced against the property owners that are in violation.

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