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January 29th, 2008
Property owners protest rental registrations, inspections at crowded City Hall meeting

By BRAD ROLLINS
Managing Editor

Scores of angry property owners and managers on Monday crammed the City Hall meeting of a “working group” drafting an ordinance that requires registration and inspection of most residential rental properties.

Just minutes into the meeting, attendees who crowded city council chambers and spilled into the foyer, began peppering City Marshall Ken Bell with questions and comments about the proposed system he has been guiding through the seven-member panel of city council appointees. Accustomed to combing through the 30-page draft in obscurity, the panel — four of whom were present — abandoned their regular practice to hear out the residents.

They got an earful.

“We don’t need a landlord czar. We don’t need another layer of bureaucracy. .. I think this is the hugest waste of time and energy. We’ve been getting along fine for 30 years I’ve been in San Marcos and I think what we need to do is put this behind us and move on,” said the first speaker, Robert W. McDonald, who owns hundreds of rental houses and duplexes in town.

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32 thoughts on “Property owners protest rental registrations, inspections at crowded City Hall meeting

  1. If all of these landlords know each other so well and are able to get together and organize, maybe they can solve their own problem by getting together and applying some pressure to the “micro problem.”

    When the police go in and fine the renters, everyone is up in arms. When someone tries to hold the landlords accountable, everyone is up in arms.

    I guess the property owners around these rentals are the problem. We’re just too intolerant of garbage, run-down properties, speeding, drunk driving, people passing out in our garages and driving across our lawns and into our houses. I guess we’re unreasonable for wanting emergency vehicles to be able to get down the road.

    I guess that as I scraped my neighbor’s pet off the road this morning and as I pick up beer bottles every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning, as I give thanks that nobody has been killed on any of the blind hills and curves in our area (yet), I guess that I am what is wrong here, for thinking that things should be different.

  2. Also, if you’re interested in doing some investigative journalism, I can’t find any record of Robert McDonald owning any properties. He must be operating under a DBA or incorportated, which would make sense for an operation that size.

    I would be interested to know the addresses of these properties and to see how they are maintained and what (if any) problems/complaints have arisen from those properties.

  3. TO ALL PROPERTY RENTERS IF YOU WOULDN’T HAVE LET THE PROBLEM BECOME SO MACRO WE WOULDN’T BE DISCUSSING THIS NOW WOULD WE?
    IT’S TIME TO TAKE SOME PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY.

  4. Ted:

    What was your neighbor’s pet doing off a leash? – we have an ordinance against that you know. Perhaps you should contact the Ken Bell enforcement police and have them look into that.

  5. Ted – I just moved into the area (I live down the street from you) and I have been surprised at the speeding cars coming over the crest of the blind hill and down to the stop sign. I am very sorry to hear about the neighbor’s pet that apparently was run over (we have a small dog ourselves).

    Overall – Hopefully now that these issues are bubbling over and very visibly, hopefully some sensible compromise solutions can be crafted that work well for everybody involved. We are renting a house right now and would like to buy/build in San Marcos, and this is certainly an important issue for homeowner residents.

  6. I am getting fed up with a city that cant service its citizens with the basics while at the same time seeks to create yet another layer of city employee to burden those that own property in the city. While I do not represent many real estate interests, I do try and represent common sense. This is simply absurd and if it passes I am seriously considering running for the office with the idea of stripping back the layers of useless employees and ordinances so that the city can focus on actually delivery city services to city residents. This is something that I am not doing lightly but those that insist that legislation is the answer to every problem are taking a page out of the wrong play book. As a lawyer I can tell you that we have the tools in place already so lets use them.

  7. Security code enforcement is extremely important, which is why Ken Bell’s department was created and recently outfitted with new equipment and was granted over half a million dollars in the last budget cycle. However I see no one talking about the flooding on the East Side of San Marcos and lack of adequate signs for children at play and children in parks on our south side. There is no thirty page document on how the city plans to fix the inadequate parking downtown nor are there multiple drafts of any proposal pertaining to the lack of adequate and handicap accessible sidewalks and crosswalks downtown. Ken Bell has his department. The focus needs to shift from past problems to future opportunities. The future of our children, the future of our streets and sidewalks, and the future of our downtown.

  8. Matthew,

    I don’t know about everything else, but there is far more than a 30 page document on fixing the downtown paerking. There are plans for a garage, there is a downtown parking committee, there are discussions of changing the flow of traffic and reducing lanes to add more spaces, etc.

    Also, the problem with some of these rental properties is not a past problem, it is an ongoing problem that has been raised year after year after year and has not been resolved.

    David,

    I agree that there are tools in place already, but they are clearly not working. I’m open to ideas, if you have some. So far, I see none.

  9. I as well as everyone else knows the sagewood area does present some problems for san marcos citizens. It is unfortunate that the citizens and students in this area are having trouble. Even though this is one area of clash between the two groups, it should be considered the many mutual benefits the students and citizens of san marcos share.

    So, a costly new department with registration and inspection is the proposed solution. Why don’t we just focus on dealing with the small area affected to the best of our ability, not including costly registration and inspection. One has to realize that with the benefits of living in a college town, also come some undesirables. This is clearly a case where law enforcement should be able to minimize the problems to the best of their abilities. My neighbor’s dog barks late into the night on occasion, I ask him to quite his dog and most of the time it is not an issue….every once in a while it is. I don’t think all pet owners should get registered, and barks be inspected yearly with a decibel register. Yet, I do realize that citizens, students, and even their pets have to learn to get along without a 30 page piece of legislative material and another extraneous tax payer supported department.

    I sincerely hope the city of san marcos will elect to forgo the expense of this burdensome proposal of registration and inspection for rental properties.

  10. We tried having law enforcement handle this issue. First, we were told by the chief that his hands were tied. He then begrudgingly went in and did some enforcement, which led to uproar from the student community (despite assertions that most of the renters on Sagewood aren’t even students).

    I don’t remember any of these people supporting our efforts to get any enforcement done (or even showing up at the meetings) and the board of realtors endorsed a candidate who seemed to be trying to shut the whole issue down.

  11. The problem with massive amounts of police and code enforcement is obvious. It is very expensive, (police officers, police cars, training, benefits etc. average around $100k/yr) and creates the sense of being targeted just because you live in a certain area of town that has had problems in the past. I have heard from many students who are sick of being targeted because other students who live nearby act irresponsibly. Rental permits allows the tennants, the property owner of a nusiance property, and the city a chance to resolve ongoing problems on an individual basis. I also disagree that rental property problems exist only in Sagewood. I have received calls from citizens in every neighborhood in town during my 5 years on council. Take a drive on Haynes St. in the Rio-Vista neighborhood as I did with several neighborhood leaders recently. Check out the rental property neglect and tell me that does not have a negative impact on the rest of the neighborhood and their property values and quality of life. The only neighborhood I have not heard from is Willow Creek as they have strong and enforced deed restrictions that disallow rentals for the most part. As for a $50-70 fee, I do not feel that is a huge burden and would help ofset the costs of all the proposed new code enforcement and police presence that the realtors and landlords are proposing. The argument that the laws are already on the books and should just be enforced dosn’t hold much water either. Not every law on the books is enforcable or effective. Rental permits allow a simple way for the city to work with the property owner to solve problems. If the property owner refuses to assist then they could lose their ability to operate that business in a neighborhood. That is what I believe is the real reason for the outcry from landlords, a ordinace on the books that is effective and has teeth.

  12. John, with all due respect we dont need to throw more money at the problem. We also dont need permits that cost small land owners money that they do not have. As for Hayes Street I would like to know who has complained. I have spoken to some of my clients that are renters on Hayes Street adn none of them have complained. In fact they have offered the opinion that there are darker reasons for this comment.

    Tennants have remedies that exist under state state law, the police have remedies in place that they use. I was invloved in a mediated settltment of a dispute last year and the system worked. If you pass this I think that you should also pass a fee live or buy in the affected areas as they areeither bought or moved to the problem

    In regards to the non habitability issues we already have code enforcment officers who should respond to complaints. All we are doing is creating a new way for the complainers to complain. While I agree with you on some issues this issue is one that is a bright line issue for me. I want out tax dollars spent providint services that are already in place like fire, police, effective electrical billing and other essential services.

    The long and the short of it is that while there are some areas that have problems there are only a few complainers and the existing resources should coverit. .

  13. Thank you for your comments and the spirit in which they are offered, David. I understand that this idea is controversial in San Marcos and that we can disagree without being disagreeable. I do believe however that we need to come together to find a solution to what many citizens believe is a real problem. The way it is being handled now, in my opinion based on all the meetings I have attended with staff, law enforcement, council, and citizens, is not working.

  14. I agree. Hayes Street is am issue for Law Enforcement and not a renter issue. Lets call a spade a spade. After the expirience I just had dealing with another city department on behalf of my mother over a non legalmatter I just want the city to focus on delvering basic services well and not get into thses other issues. We cant even deliver basic services cost effectivley and well. I would be happy to be part of the solution.

  15. Like Sergi said: Let’s call a duck a duck….The Workforces’ motivation is obvious; Sagewood is the enemy, therefore, they are culminating additional legislation to curtail the issues(noise, parking and trash)that the City is incapable of controlling even with ordinances and repercussions already available. To justify entering someone’s home without just cause to confirm if the tenants are “conducting themselves not to be disorderly” (such as underage drinking, gambling and prostitution, by the way) and then claim the misconduct to be the responsibility of the Landlord is absolutely ludicrous! Seriously, you’ve got to be kidding me.

    It is unfortunate that a vocal minority with seemingly minor issues (there are struggling families in the need of a home…oh wait,the rent just went up on those folks because the fees are just getting passed down) continues to divide the city and creates an atmosphere that doesn’t do our youthful, vibrant town any justice.

  16. An interesting but labor intensive excersize would be to get from the appraisal district a list of all single-family and duplexes in the city. From that find the ones where the mailing address is different from the property address or where a homestead exemption is not claimed. This would tell us the number and location of properties affected by this ordinance. Then we would know relative size of the sledgehammer we’re using to drive this thumbtack.

  17. Monica, As explained to me by city staff, this proposal does not allow the city to enter someones home to check for underage drinking or anything else. All constitutinal provisions prevail and this provides no exception to state or national laws. The owner, occupant, or other person in control of the premises always has the right of who enters and when. So I agree with you…that would be ludicrous.

  18. All,
    I staunchly oppose the implementation of another restrictive and invasive ordinance. San Marcos already has the ordinances to deal with Sagewood and most other issues. We as citizens need to hold thier feet to the fire and insure that they do so.

    John,
    The proposed ordinance Chapter 32,
    section 32.230 Right of Entry
    does stipulate the Marshall is authorized to enter the structure or permises at reasonable times.
    It subsequently states in section 32,1000 of the proposed Chapter 32 that upon any complaint, the Fire Marshall can enter the premises to make periodic inspections for compliance as frequent as deemed necessary.

    After having reviewed all of the current city ordinances, The City Fire Marshall already has the authority to enter any property under existing State Law

    Marshall Bell is the “Code Enforcement Officer” if any property is a nusiance property they have the authorization to issue citations according to city and state law.
    (c) The director of the marshal’s department and any code enforcement officer is authorized to issue citations to any person he or she has probable cause to believe is in violation of any provision of this code, including the land development code, building and construction codes, fire code and health codes to the extent authorized or restricted by state law.
    (Ord. No. 2005-68, § 2, 9-20-05)

    Upon doing this it is the responsibility of the municipal court judges to administer these laws which is not being done.

    If any city official has told any citizen “thier hand were tied” they are not doing thier job correctly.

    So where does the real problem exist, those not doing that which they were hired to do.

  19. John,

    It seems as though the City staff may have misunderstood the 30 page document proposed by Ken Bell. Let’s start from the beginning….The Marshall (Bell) has authority to enter the structure at reasonable times and if denied entry can pursue other means as provided by law (Section 32.230). Additionally, Section 32.1130 clearly states the the Landlord’s responsibilities include but are not limited to what I mentioned earlier…underage drinking, prostitution, and gambling to name a few. The document continues to clearly state that if the Marshall feels that a dwelling is in violation of any cited violations in the document, say underage drinking, he can proceed with enforcing the penalties upon the Landlord (Section 32.1135). Therefore, to sum it up, the Marshall can enter whenever he deems necessary and can impose penalties on the Landlord if a tenant is found to be underage drinking.

    So my question to you is this: Since you agree that my earlier statement is ludicrous, can I then presume that you will vote this Document down if put before the Council?

  20. Here are some of the positives to come out of this much spirited debate: First, code/law enforcement has improved significantly in recent months. Most of my friends who live up above Sagewood have noted improvement although they are not quite ready to declare victory.

    Second, those of us in propety management know that communication between our industry and code/law enforcement has never been better. The vast majority of property managers appreciate this communication with code/law enforcement regarding problem properties. I think we are all stepping up property supervision.

    I don’t really agree with those who say the “new code” is “right” or “wrong”. The fact is this is a simple vote your “pocket book” issue. If you think that the “new code” will improve quality of life and/or the value of your property then you should support it. If you think that it won’t improve quality of life and/or will devalue your property then you should not support it.

    Regarding quality of life. My personal feeling is controling student behavior is nebulous, spotty and will always be the job of law enforcement. (Landlords and property managers go to bed at 8:00pm.) I have lived here for twenty years, since I was a college kid, and I know that the University Students are adaptable, network better than the CIA and will beat any system you throw at them.

    Now regarding propety value, why do you think San Marcos’ per square foot home sales are higher for the same type of home than in many of the surrounding areas?(especially in the 80K-180K range) It is because of the relative scarity of homes and duplexes created by the Universtiy Student’s housing demand for these propeties. So if you live in a home or duplex or own in this price range you may want to think twice about making it difficult for investors or parents of students to rent these properties. Imagine the impact on home sales if because of the “new code” most of the rental homes and duplexes in your neighborhood suddenly came up for sale? Add that to what is going on in the rest of the country’s real estate market we could see drop in real estate values in properties desired by students.

    If you own an older rent home consider that inspections will be manadatory. There are many many homes in San Marcos that were up to code at the time that they were built but are not up to code now. Many elderly use the rental income to supplement retirement and won’t be able to afford code upgrades.

    There are other issues to address that would require more time than I have, but overall, the debate has been good for the town and I would support some version of the “new code” if the powers at be take extra care to assure us that the “new code’s” impact does not have any unintended consequences.

    P.S. You have to have a license to have a security alarm in San Marcos. The license cost $10 and has all the information the police need to contact the owner or resident.

  21. I attended several city council meetings last year when the Sagewood issue was in high gear. At that time I had just read the Noise Ordinance and was amazed at how comprehensive it was when including the issue of nuisance properties.

    When the San Marcos PD spokesperson was giving statistics I found it interesting that out of over 2000 complaints in the Sagewood area in recent years that there were approximately 200 resulted in citations and/or arrests that seemed to be a reasonable percentage. I then asked how many of those 2000 complaints resulted in fines or citations being given to the PROPERTY OWNERS… The answer was ZERO (000) NOT ONE PROPERTY OWNER…..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 obvioulsy 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, lets start with them….

  22. As someone who lives above Sagewood, I am far from ready to declare victory. At best, what I see right now is a modest short-term improvement, the likes of which we have seen in the past when we have been vocal about our concerns.

    We still have speeding problems. We still have drunk driving problems (or at least one would have to assume alcohol is involved when cars are careening into stone mailboxes, giant boulders and even houses, in the middle of the night), etc and we still have no plan to address these issues permanently.

    Can this ordinance be made to work? Can the existing laws be made to work? Would it be better to turn those duplexes into married-student housing? Or the green space they were originally supposed to be, before special interests strong-armed a zoning change?

    The more important question is when are some of you going to support us in getting this problem fixed? At every turn, people come out of the woodwork to oppose whatever corrective action is on the table, and every one else is silent, because this is not their problem. When we tried to get enforcement done and candidates used the issue to run candidates in support of the “persecuted” students, where were you? Where was your support?

    Monica, I don’t have the luxury of de-annexing my neighborhood and putting a bunch of neighborhood association regulations in place to keep the problem renters out. I live in the middle of the vibrant community you describe (as you watch from the outside) and I am looking for solutions, that will allow ALL of us to live together and ALL of us to protect our property values.

    Can we count on your support or not?

  23. Ted, Ted, Ted….I will let you get away with the de-annexation comment because you are a friend. But I can state with certainty that what the residents of SW San Marcos went through was no “luxury”. Not to mention, you are very capable of moving to the “outside” as you put it, so it is your choice to live near the “problem area”.

    On to the issue at hand…..I can say that a strong majority of the opposition to the Rental Regulation Issue AGREE that Sagewood is a problem area that desperately needs attention. But how in the world is a 30 page document that makes Ken Bell the King of San Marcos solve anything?? Do you really think that the vicarious liability the the City is trying to put on Landlords will some how curtail the drunk drivers smashing into mailboxes? I agree that it is unfortunate that people drink and drive, but you know as well as I do, they are not all college students…So, your point of connecting all individuals who hit mailboxes at night must be drunk, must be a student, and must live in Sagewood is about as accurate as Thomaides claiming that Bell can’t enter someone’s property if he really, really wants to. I sure hope I don’t ever have you on a jury…..

    I understand your desire to look for solutions so here’s one for starters: Have the “workforce” and City Staff quit spending time, money and resources on this ridiculous, unconstitutional regime and brainstorm on what can be done with the Sagewood area. Possible ideas may include getting the University involved to create housing as mentioned earlier, more parking for the Bus, or park space. But please get over the notion that the proposed document will alleviate ANY of your problems and instead put pressure on the City to come up with something that may actually work.

    No, you absolutely cannot count on my support and I will continue to fight this issue until the end. But I appreciate your asking 🙂

  24. Monica, I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt that you are not deliberately twisting my words around.

    It was the candidates who represented our pleas for enforcement on Sagewood to be persecution of students. Nobody over here ever said that they were all students or that even some percentage were students.

    This is what I said above. We asked for enforcement and certain candidates said that we were “treating students like prisoners.”

    As for the “picnic” you went through, this is no picnic either, and if we could sell our house without losing our asses, we would have called you two years ago to list it.

    Believe me, we’re not excited about being here. We’re stuck for at another year. That’s how long it will take to build up enough equity to cover commissions, closing costs and a down payment on a new place. People who moved here since we did are even more screwed, although that hasn’t stopped them from listing their houses and letting them sit on the market for month after month after month and reducing the prices time and again.

    More to the point, though, people buy homes to put down roots in the community. Their only recourse should not be to sell their homes and move. Is that the message that is going to attract more homeowners to the city?

    I asked for your support in getting enforcement. I was pretty sure I would not get it, but I did not think you would say so publicly. Perhaps we have misunderstood one another.

    I would welcome support for any of the other ideas you have mentioned (some I have mentioned MANY, MANY times already), but sadly, I am afraid that when push comes to shove, the “vocal minority with seemingly minor issues” will likely have to stand alone again, which is a shame, given how many of us I know supported your efforts.

  25. For clarification, I don’t mean to single you out, you’re just the one with the misfortune of having to talk to me. I am frustrated, across the board, with my elected officials, the police, the university, the landlords on Sagewood and everyone else who has known about this issue for so long and allowed it to fester.

    I shudder to think what this issue has cost us already in time spent by all parties, the cost in property values, the cost in quality of life for my neighborhood, for Sagewood and for everyone who has had to get involved in this morass, the cost in further dividing our community (the community I fell in love with when I was a student) and the cost in projects neglected while we debate this issue over and over and over.

    I also shudder to think how much it will cost to clean up this mess: a cost that will likely continue to climb as we fumble around from one idea to the next.

    Whatever we do next, you can be certain that it had better work or everyone over here is going to come back even louder and angrier and the city is going to have to clean up this mess and whatever new mess it makes with the next “solution”. So, believe me, I am far from sold on any “solution” today, because I desperately need the solution to really work and someone needs to convince me that it will.

    So, forgive me for jumping your ass. My response would be just as brusque no matter the audience. In fact, you may get it a little worse for knowing me.

    -Ted

  26. Also, a correction, as it was late, I’m battling the flu and had a lot going on at once.

    I’m asking for support in finding a solution and holding people accountable for implementing that solution and resolving this issue once and for all. I was not asking for support of enforcement in particular, although I agree that this may well be a big part of the answer.

    It was just on the tip of my tongue, because we have asked for it in the past and gotten little or no support and have had people use it against us, to paint us as dividing the community.

  27. Ted, we are kind of going in circles here. We both love San Marcos, went to college here and decided to stay and want the best for our community. Opening up dialog to improve upon the Sagewood area is a great idea…much better than sitting around and complaining about it.

    My issue, just to reiterate, is the actual proposed document itself in its entirety. It is full of more holes than a piece of swiss cheese and stinks just as bad. There are a multitude of fallacies including but not limited to search and seizure violations, property right violations, vicarious liability issues, parlaying a civil issue into a criminal by prosecuting in Municipal Court, and much more. Not to mention the additional costs that will be passed down to the renters in an already unstable and soft rental market. Wasting time on this document helps NO ONE.

    Hopefully you can understand my position without feeling the need to bring up 7 year old issues that have nothing to do with this one and we can all channel our energy into FIXING the problem NOT creating more. That I will support.

    I am signing off for now…..

  28. Fair enough.

    If you get bored and re-read my comments, you will find that I have not said anything in support of this ordinance. I have only asked where all of these concerned citizens were when our neighborhoods filled the Council chambers, pleading for a solution.

    That and I asked for ideas and support in the future in getting this resolved. If you’re assuming that we’re all onboard with this “solution”, you’re mistaken. We’re just looking for some of you to carry your current energy levels to the next step and help get a solution in place.

  29. In case everybody hasn’t heard already, the whole thing is on hold now, reportedly because our elected officials never agreed on the purpose of the “task force”, gave no clear direction and apparently never had an attorney glance at the proposed ordinance before turning it loose on the public.

    Thanks for that.

    Thanks for allowing this to become the cornerstone of a very bitter, devisive election and for allowing it to deepen the divide between town and gown. Thanks for allowing it to create new ones as well and for creating a perfect environment for all of these tensions and emotions to boil over. Thanks for the collosal waste of time for all of the citizens involved; all of us who took time out of our schedules to attend your meetings, the attorneys who reviewed your ordinance for you and especially, the task force, whether they met how and when you wanted or not (perhaps they knew from the outset that they were not being given the tools they needed to succeed).

    Most of all, thanks for making sure that after months of all this, the community you represent has absolutely nothing to show for it.

    Honestly, I’m actually at a loss to get most of my thoughts down, but I do intend to find my voice again in time for the next City Council meeting. In the meantime, I will check back regularly, eagerly awaiting your apologies to your constutuents.

  30. I believe I asked for someone to please let me know what are the job duties of a fire Marshall and what are the job duties of the City Council as well as our own police force already in place. With that along with rental agreements/leases, along with neighborhood watch projects as well as some cops stationed regularly around the area what is the problem. It is obvious the owner who rents the property is somewhat responsible. Aren’t there legal SIMPLE questions here? PLace the roles of officials along with rental agreements of some targeted houses and figure it out. Please again provide some answers here as my comment about htis seems to have dissapeared in ther bickering.

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