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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

City decides against rental housing inspections

The city of Grinnell’s Planning Committee decided to shelve a proposal for a new rental policy, which would have required inspections for the city’s thirteen hundred units. Members of the community debated the idea in an open meeting on Monday before the decision was made to halt discussion. No students were in attendance.

“We put out publically that we were looking for comments. We got feedback from people who thought it was the right thing, but there were a lot of people, especially landlords, who thought that it was too intrusive,” said Rachel Bly ’93, the Events and Planning Committee Chairperson and the College’s Director of Conference Operations.

The city allows for inspections if the tenant or the landlord requests it. The International Property Maintenance Code is currently the only system used by Grinnell, which by Iowa law does not require a more comprehensive program because of its small size.

“The idea for an inspection policy came up after a couple of incidents in town. They thought that if we had a rental inspection code, we might be able to eliminate some of those problems,” said Duane Neff, Grinnell’s Director of Building and Planning. “One of the incidents was a fire in March, when we found out about some electrical issues after the fact. If we had had some type of inspections, I don’t think we would have even had that fire.”

However, economic costs trumped these worries.

“I think the biggest concern was the potential cost, and if that cost would be passed on to renters,” Bly said. “I don’t want to say that it’s tenants’ rights versus landlords’ rights. That’s not what the issue is.”

Instead of pursuing a new inspection policy, Neff and Bly hope to pursue an agenda of community awareness and education to address rental problems, ensuring the current law creates a bigger impact.

“I can live with [the policy] we have. The only problem is that normally we don’t get that many complaints, so we don’t get into that many units to see if they’re meeting code,” said Neff. “We hope to get the word out.”

By informing renters, Neff hopes that they will make more requests for inspection.

“Maybe we need to start somewhere in the middle, and do more education and hold some open forums for landlords and tenants about what the code is and what you can do if you have a problem,” Bly said.

Both Neff and Bly stress that there must be communication on both ends, because tenants aren’t always the only ones who have a difficult time renting.

“If a landlord has a problem with a tenant, that’s as big a problem as a tenant having a problem with a landlord,” Bly said. “I’ve heard a couple stories from landlords who had tenants who absolutely destroyed apartments. It’s about mutual respect.”

But Neff emphasizes that tenants must always be vocal about their concerns. The city can only help those who bring issues to their attention.

“If students or anyone has trouble with anything in their rental, they can call us, and that’s the only way we can get into the units,” Neff said. “We will always follow through with the landlord if there are unsafe conditions or health issues.”

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