Rental ordinance on the path to approval

In today’s Nfld News: Rental code passes first read: Ordinance faces final approval Sept. 10

With a 5-2 majority, the Northfield City Council approved the first reading of a long-awaited rental ordinance, leaving it just one vote away from final passage… Among other things, the ordinance as passed Monday would mandate the following for rentals:

  • No more than 20 percent of the homes in a block would be allowed to be rental properties. This would not apply to housing now owned by the colleges, and blocks with higher densities would not be affected until a rental property is sold. Rental licenses would not be transferable to a new owner.
  • No more than three unrelated adults would be allowed to live in one rental unit, unless the owner obtains a conditional use permit for up to five occupants where the building inspector deems there is space. Already established college-owned housing would be exempt.
  • Contact information for the owner and/or rental agent of each property would have to be clearly posted within close proximity to the main entrance.
  • A rental housing board of appeals would be established.
  • Administrative fines would be established, in addition to any other legal remedy.

Councilmen Jon Denison and Jim Pokorney cast votes against the ordinance. Denison expressed concern about the negative impact it could have on renters, while Pokorney was uncomfortable with controlling the number of rentals per block.

See P. 25 of the council packet (PDF) or the text below. The draft of the 39 page ordinance does not appear to be available on the City’s website.

City Council Meeting Date: August 20, 2007


ITEM: 16a


ITEM: Approving the Findings of Fact in Support of the Adoption of the Approval of the Rental Ordinance for the City of Northfield


Proposed Motion For Consideration: ____________Motion ___________Second

The City Council of the City of Northfield hereby approves the findings of fact in support of the City Council adoption of Ordinance No. 868 – Rental Ordinance for the City of Northfield.


The City Council, along with the Staff of the City and many citizens, has worked extensively for approximately 18 months in an effort to adopt a new rental ordinance for the City. It has been over 35 years since any revisions to the current rental ordinance have occurred. Much has happened with respect to rental properties and neighborhoods in the City that support an update to the rental ordinance.

The findings in support of the City Council action to adopt the rental ordinance outline the following factual conditions:

• Citizens’ complaints related to rental property;

• Phone calls from the Neighborhood Services Program expressing concerns related to rental property;

• Photographs of rental property that have been the subject of complaints;

• Meetings and minutes related to the citizen input related to the proposed ordinance;

• Number of current rental units in the City and the pattern of inspections necessary to ensure compliance with current codes;

• The techniques used by the City to enable citizens to read and understand the numerous proposed rental ordinance drafts;

• Council assertion that rental property constitutes a commercial enterprise in residential neighborhoods and thus justifies the enactment of ordinances to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the City.

A copy of the findings is attached to this Staff report for review by the Council. The findings also reference a considerable amount of additional documentation that supports the actual findings of the City Council relative to the enactment of the rental ordinance. Those Exhibits are available upon request.

SUBMITTED BY: Brian P. O’Connell, Community Development Director


1. Findings of Fact in Support of City Council adoption of Ordinance No. 868. Exhibits supporting the Findings of Fact are available upon request.

Findings of Fact in Support of Ordinance No. 868

Rental Housing Ordinance

August 20, 2007

The City Council of the City of Northfield hereby finds, in support of Ordinance No. 868, that:

1. There have been numerous complaints expressed to the City regarding adverse conditions associated with various rental properties in the City, which complaints support the creation of a new rental housing ordinance to correct or improve these conditions. Some of the complaints are documented in 18 letters attached hereto as Exhibit A.

2. As a result of creating Neighborhood Services, a dedicated phone line and email address by which the City received concerns relating to the adoption of a new rental housing ordinance, 13 phone calls and 18 emails have been received which further substantiate citizens’ concerns regarding rental properties in the City. These phone calls and emails are reflected in the attached Exhibit B.

3. Photographs have been taken by a Northfield Community Service Officer of rental properties that were reported by citizens for problems or disturbances. The photos, showing issues about which citizens have complained to the City, are attached in Exhibit C.

4. The process undertaken to enact a new rental housing ordinance has involved considerable discussion among Staff and Council members, and input from residents of the City including rental property owners, non-rental property owners, and tenants. Many meetings have been conducted to obtain this input, including nine City Council meetings, three City Council work sessions, two public informational meetings held in the community outside City Hall, and one formal public hearing at a City Council meeting, all of which have minutes available for review. The list of meetings held is attached in Exhibit D.

5. Currently there are 1,667 dwelling units in the City of Northfield for which rental licenses have been issued. Under the current rental housing ordinance these dwellings are inspected, at a minimum, once every 3 years. An average of about 70% of these units require follow-up inspections to obtain compliance with currently adopted rental standards.

6. There is a need for clearer property maintenance standards and other standards to be applied to rental housing in Northfield in order to obtain and maintain compliance with the rental housing ordinance and protect the public health and safety. The current rental housing ordinance was enacted in the late 1970’s and has not been updated since that time.

7. The proposed rental housing ordinance has been drafted and revised extensively by City Staff, the City Attorney, and the Council itself, and drafts of the ordinance at various stages of consideration have been made available to the public by posting on the City website and having copies available at City Hall and the Public Library.

8. The purpose of the rental housing ordinance is as stated in Sec. 14-78 of the proposed ordinance. The Council specifically finds that:

a. Renting real property to others for residential purposes is a commercial enterprise, which is properly subject to regulation by the City to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public including occupants of such properties and others affected thereby.

b. The Council strongly supports the availability of quality affordable housing in the City of Northfield, including both rental and owner-occupied housing. However, the Council views rental housing as not only potential affordable housing for renters but as a business or commercial venture for owners; and, especially because of its commercial nature, rental housing is properly subject to regulation by the City to ensure the health and safety of the public.

c. Occupants of rental housing tend to have less power than persons who own their own homes to ensure that their dwellings are safe and otherwise suitable for occupancy; and, therefore, it is appropriate for the City to impose reasonable standards on such properties. Such standards may include reasonable health, safety and welfare requirements which might exceed building code standards and which an owner might choose to disregard in the owner’s own home, but which the City finds should not be disregarded in the commercial venture of providing housing for others.

d. The Council is concerned about the protection and preservation of traditional low density residential neighborhoods in the City which are comprised primarily of owner-occupied single family dwellings and are designed and intended to be quiet, orderly, and safe neighborhoods for children and others. The Council believes that the quiet enjoyment and value of properties in such neighborhoods may be adversely impacted by the existence of rental properties occupied by groups of unrelated adults, where occupants tend to have more motor vehicles, generate greater traffic and parking congestion, and generate other adverse impacts on the neighborhood such as noise and disorderly conduct. The Council has also observed that rental houses tend not to be as well or as aesthetically maintained as owner occupied houses and that this tendency causes a decline in the condition and appearance of the historic neighborhoods of Northfield, which are among its most valuable attributes and are of benefit to the public as a whole because they make the City an attractive place to visit and to live.

e. The Council has made extensive efforts to accommodate existing conditions in older buildings, which are used for rental purposes, while still adopting and enforcing reasonable standards to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. The Council has tried to balance the interests of property owners, occupants, and the public at large.

City Council Meeting Date: August 20, 2007


ITEM #: 16b

Ordinance No: 868

ITEM: First Reading of Ordinance No. 868 Adopting the Rental Ordinance of the City of Northfield


The City Council is being asked to give a first reading of Ordinance No. 868 adopting a Rental Ordinance for the City of Northfield.


The proposed rental ordinance has undergone an extensive amount of investigation and discussion and has been revised numerous times over the past 18 months. The stakeholders including rental property owners, neighborhood home owners, college representatives and tenants have had a significant opportunity to give input on the proposed revisions at two town meetings, a public hearing, and a variety of City Council meetings. Rental Ordinances from other cities similar to Northfield (mid-sized college towns) have been reviewed and used as a source of examples and information in the creation of the proposed rental ordinance that fits the needs and desires of City of Northfield Council members, Staff and citizens.

At the City Council meeting of August 6, 2007, specific direction was given to Staff to make final modifications to the proposed rental ordinance in anticipation of the City Council action to approve the ordinance on first reading at the Council meeting of August 20. Staff has reviewed the proposed ordinance and has made several edit modifications to make certain that the ordinance is consistent in language and terms used. Two significant changes have been made to the draft ordinance that relate to the following section of the proposed ordinance:

• Section 14-78(b) Scope: application to existing rental properties

• Section 14-78(b)(5) Built-in-Deficiencies

o (d) Plumbing Ventilation

Section 14-78(b) Scope: application to existing rental properties has been revised to reflect a distinction related to “residential-college related facilities” in that the proposed rental ordinance exempts dormitories and residential college related facilities that are located in the College Development Zone district from all aspects of the proposed rental ordinance. Additionally, residential-college related facilities that were owned by a college prior to 1981 do not have to obtain a conditional use permit as set forth in the zoning ordinance and can have the number of occupants that exist at the time the proposed rental ordinance is adopted.

For residential college related facilities that were acquired by a college after 1981, the college must obtain a conditional use permit and can have the number of occupants that exist at the time

the rental ordinance is put into effect. All residential college related facilities would be exempt from the 20% limitation on a given block.

The significance of the 1981 date is that the City of Northfield revised the zoning ordinance in 1981 to require that all residential college related facilities obtain a conditional use permit. In researching that status of residential college related facilities owned by both Carleton and St. Olaf, none of the college related facilities have a conditional use permit as required by the zoning ordinance; therefore, St. Olaf has 18 structures and Carleton has 21 structures that are residential college related facilities that do not have conditional use permits. A number of these facilities may have been owned by the colleges prior to 1981.

Sec. 14-78(b)(5) Built-in Deficiencies.

(d) Plumbing ventilation. Plumbing fixtures shall not be required to be vented to the outside unless the plumbing system is altered in any way that would require a plumbing permit, at which time the entire plumbing system in the dwelling must be upgraded by the best contractors at plumbing repair services killeen tx to be in compliance with the plumbing code.

The proposed rental ordinance does not contain this provision that would have allowed existing plumbing venting to remain unchanged and thus not meet current code requirements. This section has been deleted from the proposed rental ordinance. Plumbing that is not properly vented creates a potential for the build up of methane gas which can be life threatening to inhabitants of dwellings that are not properly vented.

With these two changes, the rental ordinance is ready for City Council enactment, as all other sections of the proposed ordinance remain unchanged.

Staff recommends that the City Council adopt Ordinance No. 868 on first ready as proposed.

SUBMITTED BY: Brian P. O’Connell, Community Development Director

John Brookins, Building Official

Michelle Merxbauer, Housing manager

Maren Swanson, City Attorney



  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: Landlords react to college exceptions: Rental code gives better treatment to schools, some say

    Kathy Topp was more than a little surprised to find college-owned residential facilities wouldn’t have to meet two provisions in the city’s proposed rental code. Topp, who owns three rental properties in Northfield, said she wasn’t the only one taken aback Monday by a recommendation to free Carleton and St. Olaf colleges from density and occupancy requirements. “Someone actually said to me ‘How did that get in there – by magic?'” she said. The effect of such a change on Northfield’s rental stock isn’t known, Topp said. But residents, landlords and tenants, she believes, should have been given an opportunity to weigh in on the subject. The proposed changes to the draft code, approved during a first reading Monday should have been discussed during a public hearing held July 9, Topp said.

    August 25, 2007
  2. Mark Breitinger said:

    This latest letter from Prof. Rippley concerning the rental ordinance is a radical departure from his previous missive on the subject. While I do not personally know the man, his reputation as a property owner and landlord precedes him. I have no doubt he is an accomplished academic.

    However, the barely disguised racism and elitism rampant in this new salvo belie his earlier position, in which he decried the proposed rental ordinance as a tool of class warfare (albeit couched in pseudo-intellectual historical allusion and outright gibberish that did little to clarify his point). In this new letter, Prof. Rippley shows that he is not above a little class warfare of his own, taking his place (I assume, rightfully so) among the “moneyed elite” who were previously the targets for his ire.

    Presently, Prof. Rippley feels the new ordinance unfairly disenfranchises Carleton College students, widows, gays and members of the clergy (i.e., those who are unrelated tenants through no fault of their own). He also feels the ordinance is inadequate to address the rental problems he sees:

    first, what appears to me to be a redneck/blue-collar stereotype right out of “The Dukes of Hazzard” (“eight or nine rowdy, litter-prone, mostly drunken, car-collecting males liv[ing] together because two brothers own and inhabit the unit”, “20 male cousins [living] together, motorcycles roaring, all-night noise, blasting boom boxes”);

    second, the lowly low-income Northfield family that may not have a shot at attending our town’s vaunted colleges (“a family with five or six teenagers and four SUVs parked on the lawn, supposedly doing heroin at the high school”);

    and third and most egregious, a particular ethnic group (“an ethnic group with “same” last names [living] 12 or 15 to an apartment”). While he coyly skirts identifying this group, I don’t think the last name in question would be Lundstrom.

    Prof. Rippley may make valid points in his letter, which may or may not be compromised by his documented conflict of interest in the matter (which is apparently not a minor conflict, as opposed to those of council members at whom he points a finger here). However, such bilious rhetoric — with its intimations of contempt for whole sections of the Northfield community — coming from an academic (whose career has been based, in large part, on study and documentation of the German-Bohemian immigration experience)is dismaying, to say the least. I pray that he spares his students this type of vitriol.

    August 30, 2007
  3. David Ludescher said:

    Dr. Rippley’s hasn’t changed his tune. Neither he nor I can think of any economic theory under which the new ordinance makes sense. The ordinance represents a kind of elitism, which Dr. Rippley recently referred to as the Bike Rike.

    August 30, 2007
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Glad to have you join the conversation, Mark. Thanks for your detailed comments.

    I don’t know Verne but I think he’s making matters worse by the way in which he writes his letters to the editor.

    Likewise, I don’t think it helps for either ‘side’ to be accusing the other of being elitist. For the most part, residents and the councilors in favor of this ordinance are trying to solve a problem that’s been a long time brewing.

    Nonetheless, the 20% rule in the proposed ordinance doesn’t sit well with me.

    I’d rather see the Council just implement ‘no more than 3 unrelated adults’ clause and then observe how that works for the next year.

    August 30, 2007
  5. Tracy Davis said:

    Emotional arguments aside, I think Ms. Emery’s piece brings up a very valid point: that at the same time Northfield is concerned about economic development and business-friendliness, we’re implementing a rather draconian policy which may have a serious impact on the availability of workforce housing in this community. Now, not only can many people not afford to buy a house here; City policy may prevent them from renting, as well.

    However, I’m in support of passing this thing just to get it on the books. The structure of the ordinance will enable Northfield to have a cohesive policy, which it needs; we can tweak the annoying and/or unworkable detail parts (density, etc.) later.

    September 5, 2007
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    Tracy, why not just implement ‘no more than 3 unrelated adults’ clause now and hold on the more draconian 20% rule? The latter is likely to stimulate a lawsuit!

    September 5, 2007
  7. David Ludescher said:

    This rental ordinance proves the adage that, “difficult facts make bad laws”. I have been trying to see where this kind of ordinance fits into the proposed comprehensive plan about to be adopted. It is contrary to both the mixed use development concept, and the Old Northfield concept.

    I am hoping that at least two more councilors stop and think not only about whether the ordinance is fair, but also about whether it is going to be effective.

    September 10, 2007
  8. David Ludescher said:

    My initial impression of the rental ordinance is that there are much easier ways for Vern Rippley to get around the rental ordinance than worry about the meddlesome constitutional issues presented. My prediction is that the first people to sue will be someone in a domestic partnership arrangement who discover that the ordinance doesn’t permit them to live with their partner and their children.

    September 19, 2007

Leave a Reply