Columbia landlords have been granted a 90-day extension on when they must get city-issued permits so they can rent to tenants.
A new law governing landlords, with crackdowns especially on uncooperative and absentee ones, takes effect July 1.
But the codes enforcement division of the Columbia Police Department has written 9,500 letters to property owners announcing an extension until the end of September. The new rules, which require $25 permits for each rental unit, will now mandate the permits by no later than Oct. 1 instead of July 1.
David Hatcher, the city’s chief codes enforcer, said Wednesday the three-month extension allows his staff and property owners more time to prepare for the controversial and complicated new regulations.
Neighborhood leaders first raised the issue more than a year ago of the need to make landlords accountable for homes in disrepair or those that had turned into party houses.
Neighborhood leaders did not get a copy of last week’s letter about the grace period, Hatcher said.
Leaders contacted Wednesday had little objection to the delay in registering landlords.
“If it’s just a few months, I can understand that,” said April Lucas, a retired attorney who was outspoken in pushing the city to tighten previous rules that landlords largely ignored. “If it’s a year, then that’s another whole kettle of fish.”
Kit Smith, a Shandon resident who remains in the forefront of tougher regulation, said, “Personally, I’m not bothered by the extension.” Other cities and towns have done the same thing to ease into stricter controls, she said.
A problem with stretching the registration period, Smith said, is that it seemingly will delay enforcement of the provisions that impose penalties for problem houses.
“I would hope that there would be some way to say, ‘We’re not going to ding you for not registering (by July 1). But we’re going to ding you for having furniture in the yard.’ ”
A handful of landlords already have registered and applied for the rental permits, which are issued for each apartment, Hatcher said.
Neighborhoods, especially those around the city’s universities, complain about rowdy tenants who often trash yards, park illegally and otherwise disturb single-family households. Landlords grumbled that they are being held responsible for their tenants’ actions.
Under the new law, any property owner who rents also now must have a responsible, local contact how lives within a 45-mile radius of the city. Codes enforcers have had trouble learning the identities of absentee landlords and then getting them to fix problems.
Other key provisions of the new rules, which carry fines, are:
▪ All landlords would be required to provide city housing officials with their addresses and phone numbers, creating a database so the police department would know where all rental properties are and who owns them.
▪ Landlords will face loss of their rental permits once they are docked with 15 codes violation points in a year. The first five points no longer carry financial penalties.
▪ The number of points will be weighted so that repeat offenders – or property violations that pose threats of serious injury or death – are docked more points per offense. A serious offense carries a 10-point penalty.