Planning commission moves rental recommendations to council

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton City Manager Eric Waara, seen next to Planning Commission member Kristine Bradof, discusses a commission subcommittee report on the city’s rental ordinance at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

HOUGHTON — A report with recommended changes to Houghton’s rental housing ordinance is going to the city council.

The Houghton Planning Commission approved sending a subcommittee report of rental housing to the council at its meeting Tuesday.

In February, the council approved letting the commission consider changes to the city’s rental policies as part of revising of the city’s five-year master plan.

The report includes revising the ordinance to make it clearer and better-organized. On parking and occupancy issues, much of it comes down to enforcement, Waara said.

“Thoroughly enforcing housing codes and ordinances … throughout the city will keep property values up, benefiting homeowners, landlords and occupants,” the report said. “If codes and ordinances are more thoroughly enforced, it will not matter if property is renter or owner occupied.”

The ordinance would be revised to spell out the requirements for approving the license, as well as the conditions and steps for revoking it.

Steps would also be taken to educate the public about issues such as grandfathered rentals, which may include provisions that would no longer be permissible under current code. Waara said he encountered confusion on the topic at an open house for the city’s master plan.

“One guy said, ‘I’ve been mad all these years because I thought you just let that go, and that’s just what the license says,'” Waara said.

The report will be forwarded to the city council for discussion. If the council approves, the planning commission will move forward with recommendations for changes to the ordinance.

Trimmed from the draft version presented in July was a recommendation to hire a second code enforcement officer. Instead, Waara said, the city will look at using the existing officer more effectively by moving inspections for properties found to be in compliance to every other year.

“We could hire 10 code enforcement people and chase code violations,” he said. “Part of what we need to do is change the culture in the city versus worrying about writing people tickets.”

Waara said the city has already made progress on issues through means such as its adoption of the International Property Maintenance Code.

“It didn’t happen overnight, we can’t fix it overnight,” he said. “It took a long time for it to get there, and it’s going to take us a while, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.”

Resident Doug Terrell thanked the subcommittee for its work in assembling the recommendations.

“We also believe everybody that sat in on these meetings has the best for Houghton in their hearts, and we hope everyone will always be open to listening the others’ ideas,” he said.