Rental ordinance being considered

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The Hattiesburg City Council is studying a proposed rental ordinance designed as a registration tool for single-family and duplex properties that includes a safety assessment of the properties every other year.

Andrew Ellard, Hattiesburg’s Director of Urban Development, presented the proposed ordinance to the City Council during a recent work session at City Hall. Ellard said the ordinance has several primary purposes.

“No. 1 is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the occupants and the community; prevent blight and deterioration; promoting quality of life in our neighborhoods and maintaining property values,” he said. “The ordinance does not affect every residential property in the city, necessarily. It’s focused particularly on single-family and duplex properties. The ordinance committee recognized there would be differences between rental properties as single-family properties might compare to unoccupied properties, as it might compare to commercial properties and as it might compare to multi-family properties.”

Ellard said multi-family properties might have onsite management, where a single-family property wouldn’t.

“What is exactly is a rental ordinance?” he asked. “First and foremost, it is an annual registration process for certain rental property, being single-family and duplex; biannual safety assessment processes to identify safety issues and certain code violations every other year; it is an improved method to identify owners and responsible agents to more quickly get in contact with someone responsible for the property to see that certain violations might be taken care of in a more timely manner. It also means identifying serious threats to health and safety.

Ellard said the responsibility of code enforcement has changed.

“As you know, code enforcement right now is mostly complaint-driven,” he said. “This (ordinance) is an opportunity to create a systematic method where a large number of properties will be seen on a somewhat regular basis every other year.”

However, Ellard said the ordinance is not designed to get involved in landlord-tenant relations.

“What the rental ordinance is not is it is not our intention to create a helpline where the city is injecting itself as an advocate or an adviser or anything like that to come between tenant and landlord on civil issues,” he said. “Likewise, it doesn’t create a mechanism where landlords can evict tenants. Again, we are not trying to get in any disputes between landlords and tenants.”

If the ordinance is adopted at next City Council meeting on April 17, Ellard said the effective date could come in mid-May.

“All of this is, of course, adjustable on how the Council decides to move forward,” he said. “Take registrations when it becomes effective with no registration or late fees. Safety assessments would be delayed two years until 2020. From July 1-Sept. 30, the only difference here is we are only begin taking the registration fee of $25. Beginning Oct. 1, the ordinance will go into full force with registrations, late fees and we would also begin doing the safety assessments.”

The City Council to