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February 8th, 2008
Council puts rental licensing, inspection proposal on hold

Managing Editor

Faced with another showing of residents incensed by proposed residential rental registration and inspections, the city council this week appeared to move toward killing it later, rather than sooner.

» Property owners protest rental registrations, inspections at crowded City Hall meeting

» NEW | Bell’s Jan. 29 memo to city council members [.pdf] » Rental Registration and Inspections Draft Ordinance [.pdf] » Bell’s Sept. 18 PowerPoint presentation on registration and inspections [pdf]
» Statement from San Marcos Area Board of Realtors [pdf]

Council members Kim Porterfield and Chris Jones wanted to preemptively reject the proposal or anything like it. Jones argued against considering the idea in October when the council appointed a seven-member working group to review it. At the time, Porterfield was running for the seat she now holds.

Council members John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose, who think the city needs some kind of ordinance to compel property owners to do more to stop their tenants’ disruptive or dangerous behavior, want the working group to continue its work.

Eventually, the council agreed to Mayor Susan Narvaiz’s compromise in suspending the working group’s activities — including canceling a meeting that been scheduled for Monday — until the council is briefed at their Feb. 19 meeting on an overlapping effort by what is now being called a noise abatement task force led by assistant police chief Lisa Dvorak.

“I’m fine with stepping back. That’s our choice as elected officials. But let’s not scrap everything just for the sake of scrapping it because we don’t like what we’re seeing now,” said council member Daniel Guerrero, who noted how eager his colleagues were to pursue the working group last fall in response to waves of residents angry about loud parties and drunken driving in the area of the Sagewood development off Craddock Avenue.

“We decided then to take on these issues six months ago and not ignore them. Now we’re saying we’re going to throw it away because we don’t like where it’s going. That’s not good business, that’s not a good process,” Guerrero said.

Starting in August, residents of neighborhoods adjoining Sagewood poured into a succession of city council members to demand that more be done to tamp down on disruptive college and college-aged behavior in the dense pocket of 100 duplexes. In the weeks that followed, police stepped up enforcement in Sagewood which led to a backlash, again played out at the speaker’s podium in the city council chambers.

In October, the council formed the working group and named seven members chosen from council members’ nominees through rounds of elimination votes. Since the group’s first meeting in December, however, one member, real estate investor Vance Elliot, has not made any meetings and two members, Jim LeSage and Michael Flowers have attended one of three. Members Rick Tarr, Robert Hernandez and Tom Wassenich have perfect attendance and Jason Aleem has missed one meeting.

With bare quorums and a behind-the-scenes assembly of the ordinance through e-mail between a single working group member and Fire Marshal Ken Bell, Narvaiz said the group wasn’t in a position to review the idea from scratch and make recommendations without clearer direction about what the council expects.

In addition, the new city attorney apparently was not involved in developing the ordinance despite a list of potential constitutional issues. And when Bell, complying with council instructions to run a transparent committee, posted a draft ordinance on the city’s Web site, later posted on Newstreamz, that set off heated opposition.

“It is not what I had in mind. …It is not fair to not give them enough direction and have them taking the firing from the public. We’re the elected officials. It’s our job to take that position,” Narvaiz said. She added later: “Mr. Bell is not the big ogre here. He was asked by [then-City Manager Dan O’Leary] to start investigating options. He merely did what we asked him to do.”

Thomaides observed, “A few months ago, we had a group of citizens saying ‘Don’t just stand there, do something.’ Now we have a group of citizens saying ‘Don’t do something, just stand there.’”

For his part, Jones seemed to be reminding his colleagues that they knew full well the scope of what Bell was proposing, having sat through a PowerPoint in September that outlined basics of the system.

“I’ll go back to what Dan O’Leary said about this when he originally brought it up. He called it a ‘draconian’ option.’ I still think it’s draconian,” Jones said.

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10 thoughts on “Council puts rental licensing, inspection proposal on hold

  1. While I would love to blame the no-shows for this debacle, especially seeing that Vance never went to one meeting, I know I would have been less than enthusiastic about showing up for these meetings, given the lack of direction and oversight.

    Am I the only one who remembers the original intent being to review the concept of rental registration “and other options” for resolving this issue? What happened to exploring other options??? Was that just a passing comment to appease certain people at that meeting?

  2. Pingback: QUOTE OF THE DAY : Newstreamz

  3. Someone out there has to know whether or not the property owner is responsible for illegal actions taking place on there property. I wanted to add that we have officers that patrol and that shoud be enough. I believe this is becoming more difficult to discuss rather that to utilize the police , fire marshall, etc and let them do what is in their job description. If anyone would like to post these job descriptions please do so. Also where exactly this falls into the councils hands to deal with, ( as oppsed to other authority through out the city, campus police, police, fire marshall, housing officials), is another question I would like someone to spell out for me as well.

  4. Do we really need another layer of beuracracy on top of so many others? Let the police and firemarshall do their jobs to stop illegal activity. Punishing law abiding cititzens and businesses for the illegal activity of others reduces our society to oversight of a parental government. Punish the wrong doers not everyone. Don’t make a simple problem one that drags every homeowner and potential landlord into the legal system for how their tenants might or might not act! Sounds a little too much like fascism or communism!

  5. Nick,

    I am not married to one solution or another. I would encourage you to join us at the next City Council meeting and speak out in favor of whatever solution seems most sensible to you.

    If you feel that we have the laws we need on the books already and that it is unacceptable for the chief to tell the city (both the elected officials and the citizens) that his “hands are tied”, then please say so.

    If you have any other ideas, then by all means, please bring those too. It is unresolved issues like this that are holding us back from the amazing potential that San Marcos holds.

    Please do not allow this issue to be swept under the rug for another year simply because it is challenging and controversial and some may be finding they don’t have the stomach for it (again).


  6. The property owner CAN be held liable for the actions of their tenants in a number of situations. These laws are already on the books. Some of these situations fall under the jurisdiction of the police department and some fall under the fire department. The codes we need to try FIRST already exist.

    What I find offensive is that Thomaides thinks that those of us that oppose the rental ordinance want city hall to do nothing. NO. The situation does need to be addressed. Urgently. Just not in the way that was foisted upon us in the manner of the rental ordinance.

    I find it unacceptable that the police chief is unwilling to consistently enforce existing rules. It is a college town, there is turnover in residents. Yes, you are going to have to enforce codes at approximately the same time every year. That’s your job as police chief. (or fire marshal…) It’s what you are paid for. It doesn’t need to be draconian. Just fair. Don’t enforce the rules at 10pm in one neighborhood and 4am in Sagewood. Out of the all the tickets written in the area, NONE have been applying the existing rules to the owners? Why? No wonder the Sagewood neighbors are mad.

  7. I have been in on this discussion for over 3 years at City Council. The first group of citizens who asked for rental property to be held to the same zoning laws as the rest of San Marcos were appeased by the City spending $500,000 to get 2 zoning Marshalls. We were told they would make sure everyone abided by the zoning laws on the books. The next group of citizens, this time mainly from the Sagewood area, were appeased by being told a task force would work on the problem and come up with a solution. I was not included in the mailout that went from the City to the realitors/landlords/leasing agents that told them to come & voice their opinions at the Feb.5 task foce meeting. I had hoped to be at the Feb. 11th meeting to voice my concerns from a neighborhood point of view, even if the City did not send me an invitation. The bias in the majority of the City Council is very evident, & it is one of the reasons the neighborhoods have not been able to live in peace with the rental properties. Why are the realitors/landlords/leasing agents so afraid of the rental registration? Could it be that it would help to make them responsible for their actions in renting and overseeing their rental business’s. A great many of the current rentals in San Marcos are not owned or operated by San Marcos citizens, but are bought as investment properties by out of state investors. The rental registration would have made those people have a local agent and would have allowed the officials to know who owned the rental property. Any business has to be responsible to the town it does business in. This is not a new or unique idea. Look online at the cities who have rental registration. There are a large number of them. Until the rental properties ar required to abide by the zoning laws and nusiance laws and until they have to register the property as a business, the problems will continue & there will be a constant battle at City Council & thru out the neighborhoods.

  8. My understanding is that the only “solution” that was investigated was the rental ordinance. Which the city council admits that their attorney didn’t get to review. If you look at the cities which have tried rental ordinances, some have been declared unconstitutional (Athens, GA), and some have decided to drop them (Davis, CA; San Bernardino, CA). No, it’s not an idea that is unique to San Marcos. Yes, it is important how it is written. I don’t want to see a bunch of my tax dollars go to a poorly thought out plan, which this was. The laws which make the owners responsible for unruly tenants already exist, they just aren’t enforced in some areas of town, because our elected officials, police chief, and fire marshal are failing at their duties. I don’t trust them when they say they need another layer of bureaucracy to fix the problem. I think we need to look at some of the other solutions which have been tried. I think we need to charge them with actually enforcing existing codes and see where that gets us. I’m not against a rental registration ordinance that is well thought out, and honestly and fairly addresses specific problems through a transparent process. I had people on the task force tell me the goal was to protect the health and safety of renters. While that might be an end result, it certainly wasn’t the goal. If you aren’t going to be honest about your goal, you aren’t getting my support. The goal was to address the (legitimate) problems in one neighborhood. I’d like to see solutions which are fair to every neighborhood.

  9. Ted and Jesse,

    I like what both of you have to say. Drunk and dissorderly is no way to get through college. However, I do understand the party needs of college kids.

    Debauching pre-college teens, destroying the neighborhood, disorderly conduct are prohibited by laws already on the books that needs to be enforced. Loud, destructive, behavior has few acceptable venues. It should be made clear by rental owners to renters going into contractual relationship which behavior is acceptable and which is not acceptable. I don’t live near students nor would I be a good candidate to come up with a solution because I like my peace and quiet.

    I think it should be the job of the Owners to set the acceptable conduct for their properties in accordance with laws already on the books. If the owner of the property gets complaints in the neighborhood of certain renters, there should be an eviction clause in their rental agreement which the owner can enforce under so many complaints gone unheaded by the renter.

  10. I am surprised at the level of interest in a rental registration program. If the City approves such a measure tomorrow it would probably be at least A YEAR FROM NOW before we would see anything happen. Why should we think that a new ordinance is going to be enforced any differently than the current ordinance.

    If at the next council meeting we push to enforce the existing noise ordinance against the “nuisance property” OWNER, we could see results NOW…

    The existing ordinance allows the city to assess Thousands of dollars in fines against a nuisance property OWNER… It does not matter if you are a local owner or an out of state owner when you have liens against your property or if you have been restricted from renting it by the city… SEE EXISTING ORDINANCE BELOW:
    Sec. 34.094. Lien.
    If the property owner does not pay the fees assessed under section 34.093 within 30 days, then the finance director will execute a statement of the fees assessed and file the statement as a lien with the county clerk of the county in which the residence is located. The statement must include the name of the property owner if known, and the legal description of the lot.
    (Ord. No. 2002-24, § 1, 3-25-02)

    Sec. 34.095. Injunction.
    If the lien is not paid within six months, the city may seek an injunction to prevent the property from being used as a residence.
    (Ord. No. 2002-24, § 1, 3-25-02)

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