CO ordinance passes 5-3

Debate on the Permit to Rent a Dwelling in the City of Henderson (CO) ordinance began with the public comments of Don Green, a Henderson resident and member of the Clean Up Henderson Committee.

Green expressed support for the ordinance, stating that if people do not have good, safe places to live they will not be good citizens. He went on to say that the CO was a matter of “prime concern” for all citizens.

The Clean Up Henderson member said that he had spoken to “a gentleman” regarding the invasion of privacy issue. He said that had to take off his shoes at the airport, something he did not like to do.

Green said he would take off his shoes for a security issue. He said the same situation applied to rental inspections.

Landlord attorney Michael Satterwhite spoke for fifteen minutes, thanks to two who had signed up for public comments and yielded their time to him. He said that he would not argue the pros and cons of the CO again.

After praising retiring City Attorney John Zollicoffer as his mentor in the law, he offered an apology to Council member Lynn Harper who said that she had been insulted “from the podium” at the last meeting of the Council. He said that it had not been his intention to insult her.

Satterwhite said that something needs to be done about Henderson’s housing stock. He also noted that his clients and the Council do not agree on what that something is.

“Is it a good thing or a bad thing that we disagree?” Satterwhite asked rhetorically.

The attorney said that he believes that the disagreement is a good thing. He said that he was proud that the revisions to the Minimum Housing Code had passed with agreement between the landlords and the Council.

Satterwhite stated the opinion that Henderson’s housing stock diminished due to a lack of maintenance by owner-occupants, landlords, and tenants, as well as the failure of the City to enforce its Minimum Housing Code.

Quoting Council member Elissa Yount as saying that he and the landlords need to “get behind” improving housing, Satterwhite argued that they have.

Satterwhite offered five points of suggestion:

1) When someone applies for water service that he or she should be advised of Minimum Housing responsibilities in writing.

2) Tenants should be encouraged to report items in need or repair to landlords rather than the City.

3) Landlords should be informed of laws against retaliatory evictions.

4) Landlords should be encouraged to ask tenants to fix damages caused by tenants and keep their rentals clean.

5) Landlords and tenants should be informed in writing of the City’s intention to aggressively enforce the Minimum Housing code.

Satterwhite expressed the landlords’ fear that the CO will be “selectively enforced”.

The attorney said that his group was not asking the City to do anything to put money in their pockets; but, rather, to simply enforce the ordinance.

Satterwhite said that City Manager Jerry Moss had told him that there was nothing in the ordinance requiring the City to enforce violations by the tenant.

“Why keep it in there?” he asked.

Citing the “Mythbusters” document distributed by Council member and chair of the Community Development Committee Garry Daeke at the forum in Shiloh Baptist Church last week, Satterwhite pointed out that the City claimed it was not inspecting for cleanliness.

Satterwhite told the Council that it is supposed to inspect for cleanliness.

“It’s not right to do that,” Satterwhite said.

The attorney expressed doubt that two City staff could inspect 3,500 to 4,000 rental units. He asked that staff be hired for the enforcement.

Satterwhite criticized the City for the condition of some of its property, especially the Armory and the old library. He encouraged the City to pursue dilapidated property first. He noted that The Daily Dispatch editor Glenn Craven, who he claimed supports the ordinance, had said that a falling down Armory or library is just as bad.

In conclusion, he asked that his clients be made to “toe the line” in whatever the City enforces, as well as owners and tenants.

During the report of the Community Development Committee, Daeke said that he heard that people are concerned with the invasion of privacy issue.

Daeke also said that he was “convinced” that what [the City] is doing is the right thing to do.

He asked the Council to think about revisiting the issue of inspecting before or after [tenant occupancy], “maybe in the next month”, as well as cost and staffing issues.

He then asked for the ordinance to be put back on the table.

During the actual vote, Council member Bernard Alston stated that he still had questions about enforcement. He said that adjustments should be “done on the front end”. He then voted against the ordinance.

Also during the vote, Council member Lonnie Davis said that he was voting “no” because of the concerns that Zollicoffer had brought forward.

Council member Mary Emma Evans did not state a reason for her negative vote during the second reading.

After the vote, Council member Bobby Gupton, with a second from Daeke, moved to schedule a public hearing on amending the CO ordinance at the next meeting of the Council. That amendment will deal with when CO inspections take place.

The motion passed without opposition.