MONMOUTH -- Rental property owners will face more stringent rules regarding the upkeep of their buildings under Monmouth's newly re-written housing code.
Adopted last week, the code contains fines for inspections of properties labeled chronic nuisances, and closes legal loopholes that have allowed landlords of units with poor repair records to avoid doing substantial, lasting improvements.
"This gives the city the tools it needs to urge owners to keep their properties up to the appropriate standards," Mayor John Oberst said. "And it should provide relief to their tenants."
The code outlines maintenance requirements for residential buildings. Inspections are typically prompted at the request of residents or tenants, and the city contacts owners about mitigating violations.
Larry Thornton, city building official, set out to revise the old guidelines last year -- out of frustration, more or less, he said.
"Staff was going out to some properties and seeing the same violations over and over again," Thornton said, noting that he has a file four-inches thick with complaints and violations at one property. "Some of those landlords that we have problems with aren't being proactive in taking care of repairs.
"They're reactive," he continued. "You have to go do an inspection and force them to do it."
The old laws had underlying flaws, Thornton said. Complexes might have several units, and each with its own violations. But each unit required a separate inspection.
"We could inspect one apartment unit and be out there two weeks later," Thornton said, "for a different unit, but for the same kind of stuff."
Complicating that problem, owners who received city notices regarding conditions of their buildings had up to 10 days to abate a specified problem. Without a cap on the permitted number of offenses, however, a single property could rack up several notices and the owner could avoid penalties by mitigating problems as they arose.
Under the revised code, multi-unit dwellings and apartment complexes will count as one unit; a violation in one unit counts against the entire property.
"This is so we're not going to the same complex time after time and having to inspect each unit," Thornton said, "which gets nothing done.
The code is also now linked with the city's chronic nuisance ordinance. Properties found to be substandard twice in 120 days or four times in a year will be labeled nuisances.
For inspections to the site performed after that point, owners will now be charged a $100 administrative fee and a sum based on the $30 hourly rate for building staff services.
Another major change involves the appeal process by owners; the city manager will now hear and render decisions on appealed notices and orders.
Thornton said there aren't chronic abatement issues with the overwhelming majority of Monmouth's rental stock, which according to the 2000 U.S. Census, totals approximately 1,500.
"This housing code isn't going to affect 99 percent of the properties," he said. "It's that one percent we're trying to reach -- it's because of those owners that many people tend to think the housing in town isn't good."
A hard copy of the Monmouth Housing Code can be viewed at City Hall.