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Council passes fee ordinance

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

An ordinance that gives the City of Marion power to enforce a landlord registration passed unanimously at Tuesday's City Council meeting with public support.

Council Vice President Dave Homer called the Neighborhood Preservation Fee Ordinance a “companion ordinance” to the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, which passed at the April 3 council meeting.

One provision of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance requires landlords owning properties in the city to register their contact information annually with the city, along with paying a $5 fee. Out-of-state owners will be required to register their properties with an agent or property manager located within 30 miles of the property owned.

The fee ordinance passed at Tuesday's meeting gives the city the power to impose civil penalties on landlords who do not register within the time allotted.

“This is the teeth behind the registration fee that was passed,” said Council member Deb Cain.

When the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019 landlords will have 30 days to register. Cain said a website is in the works that will allow for online registration.

If landlords don't register and fail to pay the penalty imposed, the city will then be able to put a lien on the property and take legal action against the owner if necessary.

The ordinance aims to help the city with the logistics of holding landlords responsible for the state of their properties. The city has had trouble in the past contacting and dealing with out-of-state owners, sometimes not even having a record of who owns a property.

Speaking to the council, Homer gave several examples of what he called “borderline fraud” on the part of people owning property in Marion.

He spoke about a Florida man who bought Marion properties and then used quitclaim deeds to transfer properties to area residents without their knowledge so that he would no longer be responsible for their disrepair. The properties had to be taken down at the city's expense.

The landlord registration aspect of the ordinance still faces the problem that the city does not have the manpower to check every lot of real estate that has been registered. The Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, due to the same limitations, will be enforced on a complaint basis.

Cain also said the city didn't know yet how they would track down out-of-state owners who were uncooperative or simply unknown to the city.

“We're still in the planning stage on that,” she said.

She suggested renters might be able to pass along information about their landlords to help with the communication of the registration fee.

She and Linda Wilk, director of Hands of Hope, are working on a grant to raise the funds for a media campaign to inform the public of the new ordinance.

Several community members took advantage of the public hearing to voice support for the ordinance, including Wilk and Michelle Wagner of the West Marion Homeowners Lodge.

Jerry Foustnight, building commissioner for the city, emphasized the importance of requiring a local agent to represent every property in Marion. He said it's a safety issue when a building is on fire and the city has no way to contact the building's owner and no local representative to work with.

Cain left the meeting proud of the ten months of work her committee put into creating and passing the ordinance.

“It's not an overnight fix, but it lets people know the city's moving in the right direction,” she said.