Houghton OKs report on rentals

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The crowd listens during a Wednesday hearing of Houghton’s Rental Housing Board. The board approved two rental licenses.

HOUGHTON — Rental housing was again a topic of discussion at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, as the council approved a Planning Commission report on rental housing and met as the Rental Housing Board to approve two licenses.

Recommendations include amending the rental ordinance to dissolve the rental housing board, which the city’s attorney said does not exist in other municipalities. There would also be steps to educate the public on areas such as grandfathered rentals based on earlier ordinances.

The next step after approval will be for administration to work with the city attorney on amendments to the ordinance, City Manager Eric Waara said.

“There’s some items in there which I think, having the city attorney working with administration, get some of those larger-scale changes made, and then start working on the details at the committee level, would be advisable,” he said.

The council voted 5-1 to approve the report. Councilor Rachel Lankton commended the report, which she called “absolutely excellent.”

Mayor Pro Tem Robert Megowen, who voted for approval after a pause, said he thought the only thing missing was greater respect for neighbors’ input.

Foltz, who voted against the approval, objected to dissolving the Rental Housing Board. The public hearing is valuable regardless of whether it has an impact on the final decision, he said.

“At a time when our federal and state government, and many local governments, leave many people walking away shaking their heads, I can’t imagine why we would join that club,” he said.

He also pointed to what he saw as conflicts of interest on the subcommittee, including a rental house owner and the parent of someone whose rental license application was rejected shortly before the report began.

As the Rental Housing Board, it approved R-1 rental license requests for houses at 206 Fourth Street and 1910 White Oak Lane. The council approved the Fourth Street license 5-1, with Foltz dissenting; the White Oak Lane vote was unanimous.

Waara said a proposed concrete driveway at Fourth Street had been confirmed as in place as of Wednesday afternoon; the house also met all other requirements after inspection.

The White Oak Lane home is newly constructed and unoccupied. The owner was seeking a rental license in case he got a potential renter before it sells, Waara said.

Randy Freisinger, who lives near the White Oak Lane home, located in the subdivision behind ShopKo, said he wanted more clarity on the requirements for a rental housing license.

“We lived on Prospect Avenue near the university and moved specifically to our location now to avoid this kind of rental situation,” he said.

Waara said the city had adopted its rental licensing procedure after a fatal fire at a fraternity house near the university to guarantee “life, health and safety measures for property.”

Those include smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Adequate parking must also be ensured.

For the past two years, the city has also had a full-time code enforcement officer.

“I think the addition of a full-time person in that capacity has helped us make great strides,” he said.

Dan Dowden, who lives across the street on White Oak Lane, backed the license. It isn’t intended as a long-term rental, he said. And the owner lives just down the street.

“We have no problem whatsoever,” he said.