Rental properties and the new business license requirement

There has been a lot of talk, and even an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, about Millcreek’s requirement for property owners renting one or two units to have a Millcreek business license. I wanted to share my thoughts on why I supported this measure.

We have been inundated with code enforcement calls since becoming a City. I don't know why other than maybe people haven't known who to call before this. A lot of calls are for unkempt property for both rental and owner-occupied houses. We also get a lot of calls about rental properties without adequate parking, with cars parked on the road or on the lawn.

The code enforcement officers have responded. The first step is educating the property owner about City code and asking for compliance. With repeat offenders the officers issue a fine--I'm not sure at what point, but I think it is after the third or fourth offense. They would rather not have to fine anyone, and really, the only mechanism in place to collect if they don't pay is assessing it to their property taxes; we don't want to have to do that.

Owner occupied homes generally comply. The owner is more invested in their neighborhood and we don't have as many repeat offenders. Rentals are another story. For whatever reason, we have a lot of repeat calls on problem rental properties.

The business license requirement gives us two tools. First, if the property owner doesn't comply after a few contacts, then Millcreek can pull their business license and tell them they can't rent their property.

Second, as part of the business license process, the landlord has a check list of things that they must have in order to get a license. There are things such as off-street parking, smoke detectors, functioning windows in each bedroom. They must also agree to keep the property up and shovel the snow off the sidewalk if they have one. This serves to educate and remind landlords of what their responsibilities are for their rental properties and to hopefully prevent code violations.

I’ve been asked about starting a Good Landlord program that allows the City to discount the license fee for property owners who participate. Other cities have programs like this and Millcreek has looked into it. The issue we have is that State statute doesn’t allow cities to reduce a business license fee for landlords who have fewer than four rental units. We decided to keep the fee low and stay within State law.

Our goal is not to force out rental properties or make things more difficult for landlords. We recognize the need for affordable housing and that is why we set the fee at $60--lower than other business license fees and much lower than surrounding cities charge. Our hope is that this will also help to improve the rental properties within Millcreek for those tenants who are renting them while helping ensure that those who own rental properties are still good neighbors.

The number of complaints we get about rental properties is a significant issue for our code enforcement officers. We need a way to address the problem, and given limited options, the license fee seems like a good place to start. It might not be perfect, and we may need to revisit it and change things if we see no improvement. But we are trying. I’d welcome suggestions if you have ideas on how to solve this issue.