Published: Tuesday, 22 October 2013 15:55
by Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com reporter
MOUNT VERNON — The issue of tenant responsibility drew the most discussion when city council members met Monday to begin revising the city’s property maintenance ordinances. Property owners who have rental properties are interested in seeing the tenant’s scope of responsibility expanded rather than the property owner/landlord being the city’s first recourse for correcting violations.
“Tenants know they are not liable,” said George Small, one of several landlords who attended the meeting. “More and more of the ordinances are sending a message to tenants that they are not responsible.”
Landlord Claude Gates acknowledged that the property owner/landlord is the final recourse for rectifying violations; however, he said that if it is on record that an individual failed to correct violations, that helps him screen his tenants and he will not rent to that person.
The draft ordinance states that tenants may be held responsible for violations if the landlord-tenant lease specifically states issues such as garbage, rubbish, solid waste and weeds are the tenant’s responsibility. Council members agreed that if this stipulation is in the lease, the city will look first to the tenant to correct violations.
The issue was revisited when council began discussing recovering fees for enforcement of the maintenance ordinances. The draft ordinance states the property owner will be assessed the penalties and expenses. Council members said the landlord/property owner is responsible because tenants often move, are unable to be located and cannot or will not pay. The landlords want the tenant to be contacted first. Requesting the city to take “a little bit of the hit, not just get everything from the property owner,” Small said taking a tenant to court to recover the cost of expenses/penalties is not feasible because local courts will not evict a tenant unless back rent is due. Councilwoman Nancy Vail ultimately asked City Law Director Chip McConville to see if he can come up with language satisfactory to both sides.
Responsibilities and Rights of the Building Maintenance Enforcement Officer
The BMEO will be appointed by and report to the safety-service director. He is authorized to enforce the maintenance ordinances and can render interpretations of the ordinances; he does not adopt policies and procedures. He can recommend condemnation or demolition of a structure; the final decision will be made by the Board of Building Maintenance Appeals. The BMEO will make all required site inspections, issue all notices or orders to ensure compliance, and maintain and retain official records of business and activities.
The BMEO does not have right of entry to a structure or premises. He can request permission to enter from the occupant or owner; if permission is denied, he can request the law director to seek a search warrant.
Board of Building Maintenance Appeals
The Board of Building Maintenance Appeals will consist of the city engineer or designee, fire chief or designee, Knox County health commissioner or designee, and two residents of the city appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council. Four members constitute a quorum. The law director or designee will attend all meetings.
A property owner or tenant can appeal an enforcement order to the board. The $100 appeal fee will be refunded if the board finds in favor of the appellant. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of violation notice. The board may uphold, modify or reverse an enforcement order.
The board will also hold hearings in the event a structure is recommended for condemnation or demolition. All decisions of the board can be appealed to the Knox County Court of Common Pleas.
Council initiated discussion of Chapter 1305 of the draft ordinance which covers property maintenance requirements such as exterior maintenance, sidewalks and driveways. Due to the discussion generated and the lateness of the hour, council postponed discussion of this section until the next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Committee. The next meeting will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28; this is prior to council’s regular 7:30 p.m. session.