Stop-gap rental ban fails

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton City Councilors Philip Foltz and John Sullivan both voted to stop allowing rental requests in residential areas, but the motion failed.

HOUGHTON — A move to place a moratorium on rentals in residential districts failed on a tie vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The measure would have begun the process of blocking new licenses for up to six months — long enough for the Planning Commission to come up with a new policy regarding rentals.

Councilor Philip Foltz, who requested the item be added to the agenda, voted for it, along with Councilors Robert Megowen and Councilor John Sullivan. Mayor Bob Backon and Councilors Rachel Lankton and Mike Needham voted against the moratorium, which needed a majority of votes to pass.

Foltz said he had been motivated by hearings such as one last month, where numerous neighbors of the property objected to the license.

“I believe that the majority of the people and voters in this community would like something so it’s not just, ‘If you meet the basic requirement, you get a rental,'” he said.

Lankton said the proposal could introduce uncertainty to the city’s labor market over the summer.

“How many houses are not going to get sold?” she said.

City Manager Eric Waara said the city’s attorney had advised him the moratorium would have to be done by ordinance to be on stronger ground legally. The ordinance would be drafted and presented to the council; the process would take about 30 days, he said.

Waara said he couldn’t recommend the moratorium.

“A short-term moratorium would take about the same time as it would take to make changes to the ordinance itself,” he said. “A longer-term moratorium may bring on a flood of applications trying to beat the deadline or disrupt the process even further.”

Last month, the Rental Housing Board declined to act on a request for a license at 1008 E. Houghton Ave., deciding to wait until the Planning Commission could look at changing guidelines for rental licensing. Laura Konkel, who made the request, had said she planned to rent the home to a family for a couple of years before her family could move there from Madison.

The Rental Housing Board met Wednesday to discuss the request, which had already been withdrawn.

The house’s owner, Pushpalatha Murthy, criticized the board for not issuing a license to Konkel, a Houghton native who had visited the house frequently as a child. It would have been like selling to her daughter, Murthy said.

“Is that the message we want to send our kids, our daughters who’ve grown up in the neighborhood?” she said. “I think what you all did was really wrong.”

The council had already requested the planning commission look at potential changes to the rental ordinance, which Waara said the commission could do at its next meeting. Those would include making the process clearer and making more provisions for public input to be a factor.