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Mapping out rental inspections; Next piece of RENTS package pending city approval
City of Racine

Mapping out rental inspections; Next piece of RENTS package pending city approval

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RACINE — Using data and mapping software, city staff has selected areas of the city for targeted rental property inspections as part of its new Rental Empowerment and Neighborhood Tenant Services program.

RENTS is a multidepartment program intended to address issues in Racine’s rental market. The program was approved alongside the 2020 budget in November.

One piece of that program entails multidepartment inspections of rental properties within a specified area. The ordinance creating the Neighborhood Stabilization and Enhancement District specifies that its purpose is to identify and address habitation violations that affect the health and safety of residents.

“Not some kind of exterior chipping paint or something,” said Matt Rejc, Racine’s Housing and Community Development manager. “This is lacking electricity, lacking hot or cold water, things of that nature. That’s what the inspectors in these districts are really going to be looking for.”

Rejc and Vicky Selkowe, the city’s manager of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, gave a presentation on the proposed area and how it was created to the Executive Committee on Wednesday. The committee voted unanimously to recommend City Council approval; however, the council was unable to take any action that evening due to lack of quorum.

Proposed area

The proposed area curves around Downtown Racine like a misshapen letter C.

On the northeast side of the city, the targeted area starts around Goold Street and moves south, including Douglas Avenue, High Street, Memorial Drive and Main Street. As it approaches the Root River it shifts to the west and includes the area around Memorial Drive heading south until it crosses the Root River. Then it widens along Washington Avenue to Main Street to the east and West Boulevard to the west. It includes the neighborhoods around the Tyler Domer Community Center, Taylor Avenue, Uptown and Rubberville (just south of Uptown).

The boundaries of the inspection area were drawn using data projected onto maps showing where city inspectors have recorded the most severe housing violations and frequent complaints and inspections. The focus on data is in order to be in compliance with state law which has changed over the last few years to make it increasingly difficult for cities to conduct proactive inspections.

“What they’ve left cities to do is to say, ‘you can do inspections but you have to do them in a systemic way,’” said Selkowe. “You have to schedule them and you have to do them within these data-drawn districts that you define.”

The program won’t replace the city’s current complaint-based inspection program which will still be up and running. However, it was created to address the fact that several residents during the Renters’ Roundtable held last summer said they didn’t report violations for fear of retaliation.

“This is really meant to be proactive. It is meant to protect tenants and ensure that we have safe and healthy housing in those rental units,” said Selkowe. “We want to find out if these units are safe and habitable and if they’re not we want to work with owners to bring them up to living standards.”

Inspections are limited to residential rental structures—any industrial or commercial properties are not included. Also structures that have been built within the last eight years will be exempt, in order to concentrate on older properties.

If the map is approved by the City Council, city staff will start working on a plan for implementation. Selkowe said they hope to start scheduling inspections in May or June.

Other RENTS provisions

The full RENTS package includes:

  • A landlord registry to ensure the city has the current property owner’s name and contact information for every rental property in the city.
  • A searchable public database of all city properties so anyone can search a properties’ history including any code violations and whether the violations were addressed.
  • Updating chronic nuisance codes to include code violations. Currently, nuisance ordinances focus on public safety issues.
  • Establishing an escrow account for when landlords need to make repairs to bring their property up to code. Tenants would pay their rent into the account and the landlord would receive those funds once the repairs are completed.
  • Stronger enforcement of ordinances barring retaliation against tenants for reporting code violations.
  • Requirements that lenders pending foreclosure register with the city and maintain the upkeep of the property.

Selkowe said measure to prevent retaliation against tenants for reporting code violations went into effect once RENTS was approved in November. Most of the other provisions they hope to implement in March.

Landlords have until June 1 to comply with the property registry, though staff are still working to finalize the registry system. The registration fee was set at $10 per property in the 2020 budget.

Selkowe said that the searchable public database may be delayed as well, due to a ransomware attack three weeks ago which is still affecting many city networks.

“This is really meant to be proactive. It is meant to protect tenants and ensure that we have safe and healthy housing in those rental units.” Vicky Selkowe, city manager of strategic initiatives and community partnerships

"This is really meant to be proactive. It is meant to protect tenants and ensure that we have safe and healthy housing in those rental units."

Vicky Selkowe, city manager of strategic initiatives and community partnerships

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Reporter

Christina Lieffring covers the City of Racine and the City of Burlington and is a not-bad photographer. In her spare time she tries to keep her plants and guinea pigs alive and happy.

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