City Administrator’s Friday Memo, May 15

Joel-WalinskiThe Friday Memo, written by Northfield City Administrator Joel Walinski and many of the department directors, managers, and supervisors, summarizes many of the staff activities for the week.

fridaymemothumbThe Friday memos are published and archived in PDF form at the bottom of Joel Walinski’s web page. See the Friday memo for this past week and then comment or ask questions about it here.

This week’s good news includes a colossal invasion of privacy (not to mention waste of time) as the City “reviews” EVERY RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY TO VERIFY USE:

The building inspection staff continues to work on getting all the residential properties that are used as rental in Northfield brought into compliance with the rental ordinance. Staff has started the process to review every residential property in the city to verify the use of the property. We will determine if the property is owner occupied or is being used as a rental. This process will take several months to complete. Monthly progress reports will be provided to the Community Development Department Manager.

WTF?

I sure hope my college-age kids don’t answer the door when the City comes calling, but if they do I’ll be sure I’ve coached them on the fourth amendment and that they ask the building inspector for his warrant. Maybe it’s just me, but does anyone else see problems with a rental ordinance that requires visits to every home to determine “compliance”? I’ll bet they’ll even be wearing brown shirts. Have I mentioned that the rental ordinance is not in conformance with certain principles adopted in the Comprehensive Plan? I won’t start by throwing around that word “unconstitutional”. Call your councillors, everybody, this is a dumb one.

Moving right along to the better and more constructive stuff in the weekly memo, there are details of funding tax-dollarsreductions in local government aid (LGA), a good visual presentation by Kathleen McBride on where our residential and commercial property taxes go, and updates on many of the construction projects around town.

Supplementary documents for the week are available on this week’s Friday memo page on the City website.

Note: There is a City Council meeting/work session tonight. You can view all meetings here on the City calendar.

26 thoughts on “City Administrator’s Friday Memo, May 15”

  1. Tracy,
    Thank you for your attention to the ongoing insanity of Northfield’s Rental Code.

    I know that Jim Pokorney and Jon Denison have previously stated that they would like to revisit the Code; does anyone know where the other Councilors stand on this issue?

    Perhaps in the meantime, Tracy, you could use your soapbox to present “A Beginner’s Guide To Your Right To Privacy At Home”? I know all about my rights if I actually owned my home, but the issue gets muddier (for me) when the property is owned by another, and many landlords reserve the right to enter the home for a stated purpose, given 24 hours notice.

    In the fall of 2007, I had the misfortune to find both my landlord as well as a city inspector walking into my bedroom as part of the previous round of inspections. (Yes, I may have implicitly given permission to the landlord to enter – by not refusing his notice – but that morning I was sleeping quite soundly after a very long night at the hospital, and if they rang the doorbell, I did not hear it.)

  2. Tracy and Patrick
    I think there are a number of councilors who would be willing to revisit the rental ordinance to see what is working and what isn’t. This is good practice as time marches on, just as we adjusted certain wording on the outdoor dining ordinance recently.

    With the downturn in the economy the hardship issue might make this revisit particularly compelling. If you or people you know have experienced economic hardship because of the ordinance I would like to hear from them.

    1. Thanks for your response, Mary.

      Apart from being surprised by my landlord and the city inspector in my bedroom, I have not personally been affected by the rental code. But then I am currently a renter, not a homeowner.

      I do recall that Jon Denison read two letters at a Council meeting last fall or summer, which were from homeowners who were being adversely affected (even in danger of foreclosure) because of their inability to rent their homes. Perhaps he could help locate those.

      I do have a friend who was informed by the city that a house he was planning to buy (which had an existing apartment above the garage) was not eligible to have a rental unit, because there was already a unit on the block.

      If that had been true, he would not have bought the house, and he might still be commuting to Northfield from the southern Cities. Mercifully, upon further investigation, it turned out that the “existing rental unit on the block” turned out to be the very house he was planning to buy. However, what if it turned out that there was another apartment down the block? Why should the other homeowner be allowed to operate a rental unit, while he was not?

      There are many concerning aspects of the Rental Code, but the most dubious (remaining) clause seems to me to be the one that allows some people to rent their homes (or part of their homes) in a neighborhood, but prevents others from also doing so merely on the basis of proximity to the former set.

    2. Well, there was also the question about what constitutes ‘related’ or ‘unrelated’ individuals in a unit, and how that relates to married and unmarried partners of same and opposite genders. However, I’m less familiar with that clause and its current status.

      I do recall that David Hvistendahl articulated a very convincing critique of that clause – both in person to my wife, as well as on a LoGro podcast, IIRC. I also recall talking to Jim Pokorney about that clause, and he had some very good thoughts on how to rewrite that clause in a less discriminatory manner.

      I could offer you my summary of their points, but they would would be able to give you their thoughts far more eloquently than I.

  3. Mary, thank you for your comment. This is definitely something that the new Council should revisit. In addition to limiting the supply of workforce housing, which I believe is contrary to Principle #8 of the Comp Plan, it does cause other hardships.

    Just last week I heard from a local realtor about two situations where a person had been transferred to another location, and couldn’t rent out their house because of the 20% cap. In one case the property is going into foreclosure.

    I understand that there are problems with maintenance of some residential properties in the City, as well as issues of public behavior, but let’s enforce our existing ordinances on governing those things, rather than trying to use a cluster bomb to swat an annoying housefly.

    And if we do indeed have to have a new “rental ordinance”, let’s make it more specific and just call it the Verne Rippley Anti-Slumlord Ordinance and be done with it.

  4. There is absolutely no legal basis which would empower the city to go door to door and enter everyone’s home to “verify the use of the property.” I won’t be allowing any city officials into my home.

    And, this EXACT same issue has been litigated in Red Wing over the past few years. (Spoiler alert: the city has repeatedly lost.)

    http://www.ij.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2658&Itemid=165

    http://www.ij.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=874&Itemid=165

    http://www.ij.org/images/pdf_folder/private_property/redwing/JudgeBibusDismissal.pdf

  5. Would this policy and these city actions be considered housing discrimination?
    Also, I would be interested to know how the door-to-door system is going to work. Are the city officials really going to check each and every door, and try back again until someone answers? If they don’t, and the officials target certain neighborhoods based on location and cost of living, that certainly would qualify as housing discrimination on the basis of its enforcement.

  6. This is the old ‘give the government an inch and they may dedcide to take a mile’ issue. We saw a similar action play out in Northfield when the city tried to impose a greater standard of life safety on renters than homeowners—this was done through the enforcement of egress windows in sleeping rooms for renters, but not for homeowners.

    It is interesting to watch things play out in Brown County with the government stepping in and implementing forced medical treatment on a boy. Tonight an arrest warrant is out for the mother and father because they have not complied with the judge’s orders. We might actually see an arrest of a mom, a taking away of her child, and forced medical care of the child, against his wishes.

    This is all very, very spooky to me.

  7. As a follow-up to last week’s memo, Mayor Rossing asked me to provide some clarifying information on the rental inspection posting.

    Recently we’ve received a number of reports from residents about several homes being used as rental buildings without rental permits. Taking a pro-active approach and attempting to see how significant a problem this has become, our inspection staff is cross referencing property registrations with utility billings and other building information. If we find conflicting information we will be contacting the property owner via a letter asking for more information. We’ll also be providing a summary of this information to the council to aid in their discussion and review of the current rental ordinance which is schedule for a worksession in June. That discussion will be a review of how the code is currently working and what issues property owners/renters are encountering.

    Just as an FYI – We are not going door to door. I’ll take the blame on the lack of clarity posted in the Friday Memo. Comments or concerns please call.

    Jw

  8. I always learn something valuable in the Friday Report. There are two pie charts showing where our property tax dollars go. On residential property 44 cents of every dollar goes to the school district. On commercial property, less goes to schools, but about 25 cents goes to the state (?). Hmm.

    1. Stephanie,

      Commercial / industrial properties pay a higher rate with the additional tax paid to the State of Minnesota. I added the total tax rate to the bottom of each pie chart. Showing the distribution of each property tax dollar in cents or percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. Perhaps I should supplement with a bar chart showing total property taxes dollars paid and to which entity next time.

  9. Kathleen –

    Personally, I think that you would be providing a valuable service to the community if you showed commercial and residential property taxes by total amount paid and to which entity.

  10. Thanks to the Council for this:

    City council members at their Monday night meeting overwhelmingly favored reconsidering a provision in the year and a half old rental ordinance that allows no more than 20 percent of the homes per block to be licensed as rentals.

    Opponents of the density regulation say the rule has forced some property owners who haven’t been able to sell their homes to leave them vacant and given others no choice but to rent without a license. They also complain about the ordinance’s use of a block as a measuring stick given that blocks in every neighborhood don’t have the same number of homes.

    …City staff promised Monday to return to the council with suggested changes to the council as well as an action plan to ensure the problems first brought to the council’s attention in 2006 don’t return.

    http://northfieldnews.com/news.php?viewStory=48688

  11. A quick request for help:

    My landlord just decided to show the house we are renting. He called to tell us he was showing the house at 5:30PM. He notified us of this by voice mail at 5:25PM.

    Minnesota law says:

    Entry by landlord. Except as provided in
    subdivision 5, a landlord may enter the premises rented by a
    residential tenant only for a reasonable business purpose and
    *after making a good faith effort to give the residential tenant
    reasonable notice under the circumstances * of the intent to
    enter.

    http://law.justia.com/minnesota/codes/500/504b-s211.html

    Does anyone know a working definition of “reasonable notice under the circumstances”? I don’t know what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not 5 minutes for a house showing.

    Thanks.

  12. Robbie,
    We’ve found a better solution – we’re moving out next month. It’s time to be homeowners again.

    Still, I’d like to remind my landlord of the law on notification of entry. We’ve got to coexist with him for a little while yet, and he really should be more considerate towards future tenants.

    1. Patrick: Just a note on landlord practices: our lease for our apartment tenants has written into it, at our request, that we must give the tenants 24 hours notice if we wish to show their apartment, or indeed for any reason of entry at all, except an emergency that would damage the building (broken water pipe or something).
      Tenant/landlord relationships can be adversarial by nature; it is to both parties certain advantage to have the most considerate relationship possible. You would be entirely in the right to not allow entry without more notice. Pick up a landlord/ tenant handbook, put out by the MN attorney general’s office; I think they have them at City Hall.

    2. Thanks Kiffi.

      I have had previous leases which have had a clause just like yours. (I think 24 hour notice may have been a law in Madison WI.) My current one does not contain any such clause.

      On the other hand, my lease does have the following clause written into it:

      “Owner or any other person authorized by him has the right to freely enter his apartment at any reasonable time to inspect, make repairs or alterations as needed and within sixty (60) days prior to the end of the term to exhibit the apartment for rent.”

      Perhaps my landlord thinks this gives him special dispensation to ignore the “reasonable notice” clause. However, the law I cited above also states:

      “A residential tenant may not waive and the landlord may
      not require the residential tenant to waive the residential
      tenant’s right to prior notice of entry under this section as a
      condition of entering into or maintaining the lease.”

      I have spoken with my landlord, expressing my displeasure with his action. He apologized partly for the inconvenience he caused, but also suggested that I should try to see the situation “from his point of view.” (He didn’t explain his point of view, but presumably he meant his extreme eagerness to rent my unit. I know he has had trouble renting a neighboring unit.)

      Hopefully, he will not do it again. If not, I will probably be looking for a lawyer. Which reminds me – I also need to put a formal complaint in writing.

      So many important things to do; it’s quite an annoyance to have this to deal with as well.

  13. Reminds me of when I lived over the Bakery and came home from typesetting at Northfield News to find the bathroom toilet seat up and other evidence that someone had been lounging about. I had a lot of collectibles out in the open and could not tell at a glance if any were missing.

    Turns out landlord Ed Klinkhammer had given entry to a refrigeration guy to look at a big freezer in the kitchen, I suppose to evaluate it for sale. No notice whatsoever.

  14. I always find something of interest in the Walinski Friday Memo. The one for July 17 includes this. Where do the stockpiled solids go?

    Wastewater
    Submitted by Gerald Ness, Systems Technician

    This week repairs were made to the BioSolids Thermoblender. An intermittent control-wiring problem was causing fluctuations in the heating system. Repairs were completed and the equipment is now stable and fully operational. The Thermoblender is a component of the BioSolids processing system. After sludge is initially dewatered on a filter belt press, it is sent to the Thermoblender whereit is heated and mixed with lime before final pasteurization and stockpiling.

    cc: Department Managers

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