November 20, 2013

Augusta apartment ordinance up for final vote

In the last year, the city has declared nine buildings and a floor of another building unsafe for occupancy and ordered tenants of the 50 units in those buildings to move out.

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A controversial ordinance that would require landlords to have their rental units inspected if they’re rented to people receiving General Assistance housing money from the city is up for a likely final vote Thursday.

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Augusta officials conferred in October outside the apartment building at 3 Jefferson St. after the city closed it and another apartment building at 1 Jefferson St. for code violations. The closures displaced 12 tenants, who officials say were living in quarters that would have been hard to escape in an emergency.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Landlords have said they are concerned that if the city isn’t willing to work with them, the ordinance could set standards too high, too fast and too complex to be easily understood.

“I really don’t know what rules landlords would have to abide by, it’s confusing,” Charlie Anderson, a local landlord and member of the board of directors of Capital Area Housing Association, a nonprofit group made up of landlords in Augusta, told city councilors when they last discussed the ordinance earlier this month. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I’m looking for ‘Life Safety Code for Dummies,’ because it’s really daunting. How can an average person figure this out?”

City officials have acknowledged codes can be complex and voluminous, but said city staff are more than happy to help landlords learn what they need to do to comply and the code is already existing law.

Mayor William Stokes said rental properties are required to meet safety codes. The only thing changing because of the ordinance is the city would now have the power to inspect apartments and common areas if they are occupied by tenants who receive General Assistance housing money.

Councilors have discussed the ordinance multiple times, and conducted a first reading, of two required, of the ordinance Nov. 7.

Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said Tuesday the only change to the proposed ordinance since the first reading is references indicating rental housing must meet the 2009 safety code were replaced with wording indicating housing must meet the most recently adopted safety codes. The most recent update to the codes was done in 2012, Langsdorf said.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the ordinance is meant to make sure the city is not subsidizing the rent of anyone living in unsafe housing conditions.

In the last year, the city has declared nine buildings and a floor of another building unsafe for occupancy and ordered tenants of the 50 units in those buildings to move out. Bridgeo noted those buildings were ordered vacated because they were considered unsafe. He said in most cases when code violations are found, short of ones which put tenants or others at risk, the city is willing to work with landlords and give them time to bring their buildings up to code without displacing tenants.

Councilors are scheduled to vote on the ordinance at 7 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Keith Edwards - 621-5647


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