Landlord and tenant fight Richardson’s rental registration rules

By MATTHEW WATKINS
Staff Writer
mwatkins@dallasnews.com

Published: 11 December 2012 10:38 PM

Landlords and their tenants are known to fight on occasion; they just usually aren’t on the same side.

But a Richardson landlord, Luke Lukas, and his renter, Peter Balbus, have joined in opposition to the city’s rental registration program, an initiative that requires rental houses to be registered with the city and inspected by city workers.

In recent months, they have refused to allow inspectors inside the home and have built websites encouraging others to oppose the program.

“I would like to see the ordinance revised or repealed,” Lukas said.

Thousands of cities across the country have implemented similar programs. In North Texas, rental registration is required in Garland, Carrollton, Coppell and Little Elm. But the programs have also been challenged. Garland was forced to adjust some of its provisions after being sued. And there have been some calls for a state law banning the programs.

Richardson officials say the program is a key component of their efforts to keep the city’s neighborhoods vibrant. And, they said, the programs have mostly survived legal challenges.

“The goal is ensuring that the homes are safe, healthy and clean for the tenants,” said Don Magner, deputy city manger.

The program was introduced in 2004, but Lukas first learned about it in a letter from the city in September. Lukas has rented out a house on tree-lined Windsor Drive in eastern Richardson for about six years. The letter said he needed to register it and allow inspections.

At first he refused, but he agreed to register after receiving a citation from the city. But he has resisted allowing the city to schedule an inspection. That, he says, would be a violation of his renter’s privacy.

“We just don’t want him to be bothered because we don’t think it is right,” he said. “He rented this place so he could have his own domain.”

The city then obtained a warrant allowing inspectors to enter the house. Inspectors have gone there twice, but Balbus has refused to let them in.

So Lukas has been cited again, this time for failing to make the house available for inspection. He said he has a hearing in municipal court scheduled for later this month.

Lukas and Balbus say someone’s home — even if it is rented — shouldn’t be subject to standard inspections by the government.

Lukas said he has retained a lawyer and is considering trying to team up with other landlords in the city to challenge the program in District Court. They are chronicling their cases at www.richardsontexaslandlords.com and www.richardsontexastenants.com.

But Magner said the city is confident that its program is legally sound.

Magner said no one’s privacy needs to be violated in order to comply. Inspections are required only when a home is first registered, or within 30 days of a new tenant moving in. Inspections can be scheduled with little advance notice, Magner said, meaning landlords can have them before a tenant moves in.

Even if it must be done after a move, the inspections are hardly invasive, Magner said. Each one lasts about 20 minutes, he said. Inspectors are given a list of 42 criteria, which include the condition of the plumbing and electrical infrastructure, sanitary conditions and the condition of the lawn and vegetation.

Those criteria are rated on a point scale that adds up to 100. Anything below an 85 must be reinspected at a cost of $90. If a house repeatedly fails, it could be shut down.

That rarely happens, however. In 2012, the city inspected 644 properties, and only one failed.

“We feel very strongly that our program is fair, reasonable and defensible,” Magner said.

Lukas and Balbus say they can think of less intrusive ways to protect renters.

“The heavy-handedness of a local government having this kind of power and response is unconscionable,” Balbus said.

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/lake-highlands-richardson/headlines/20121211-landlord-and-tenant-fight-richardsons-rental-registration-rules.ece

 


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