Columbia officials are working to create a central eviction court for troublesome tenants to complement landlord regulations that appear to be near approval.
Police Chief Skip Holbrook and City Manager Teresa Wilson have met with Richland County chief magistrate Donald Simons to designate one judge who would hear all eviction cases in Columbia.
“Our conversation was very promising,” Holbrook said late last week of talks with Simons, who oversees Richland County’s 14 full-time and three part-time magistrate judges.
Details about where and how often the eviction judge would hold court have not been made public. By state law, magistrates have jurisdiction over eviction disputes.
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Holbrook hopes those decisions will be settled in time for the court to be in place by July 1. That’s when new city landlord regulations that have been in the works for more than a year are expected to take effect.
Some landlords have complained that it takes too long to get rid of problem tenants. It can drag on for months, unlike in Charleston, which has a designated eviction court, they said.
Landlords have asked for a crackdown on tenants at the same time that City Hall focuses on landlords, especially absentee owners.
On April 5, City Council is likely to hold a public hearing and cast the first of two votes to adopt a rewrite of 2009 landlord standards that Holbrook and many neighbors say is inadequate. For example, city officials do not have an accurate count of how many rental properties there are and how often they can’t reach out-of-town landlords to get problems corrected.
The rewrite, a compromise reached after pushback from landlords, would for the first time require rental permits for every apartment, impose fees and fines for violators and create a database that would allow police and code enforcers to reach absentee landlords. Critics say absentee landlords often ignore problems at their properties.
State law makes it hard to force out-of-town and out-of-state landlords to comply because authorities must serve violation reports in person.
The newest version of the proposal gives landlords more leeway before they face being put out of business, creates penalties that adjust for the severity of property maintenance violations and makes it easier for property managers to get mandatory annual $25 rental permits for each apartment.
Absentee landlords have been required to register with the city since 2009. But roughly half of them have not complied, city housing officials have said.
The draft that council members are to take up was tweaked to protect tenants facing eviction because of violations by the property owner. Victims of domestic violence who are tenants would not be evicted if confrontations with partners result in violations that could accumulate points.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.