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Bemidji City Council considers moratorium on rental registrations

The city of Bemidji has seen a 40 to 50 percent increase in the number of single-family homes converted to rental units since 2005.

That statistic, along with concerns about the loss of neighborhood character, has led the Bemidji City Council to take its first step toward addressing the number and quality of rental units within the city limits.

City Councilor Kevin Waldhausen said that while he and his family have good relationships with their renting neighbors, his block has experienced an increase in the number of rentals.

"We've really seen the neighborhood change drastically," he said.

The City Council on Monday held the first reading of an ordinance that would put in place a moratorium for up to one year on all new rental registrations for single-family homes converted into rental properties.

The second hearing, which will include a public hearing, is planned for July 20.

The moratorium also would require a third reading in August and would go into effect 30 days after legal publication.

The moratorium could last up to one year, but the council could choose to lift it at any time. "That would give us a year to study it and build partnerships," said Councilor Ron Johnson.

Also presented for consideration was a possible ordinance that would have set a density limit on the number of single-family-homes-turned-rental-units allowed per city block.

That limit would have been 25 percent.

A recent tabulation of single-family-homes-turned-rental-units showed that the number is highest in Ward 1, near the Bemidji State University campus, where blocks often have a percentage higher than 60. In fact, one block has an 80 percent density; 50.4 percent of all single-family homes in Ward 1 are rentals.

In Ward 2, 20.10 percent of all single-family homes are rentals. Ward 3 has a 17.73 percent, Ward 4 has 19.13 percent and Ward 5 has 10.61 percent.

"It's more of an urgency for my (ward)," said Waldhausen, the city's Ward 1 city councilor.

Despite the numbers, the council opted to not pursue a density limit at this time.

Johnson said he favored the moratorium over density limits, because there are other issues facing rental properties, such as parking and enforcing the occupancy limits.

"The moratorium was specifically drafted to put a stop, for the time being, on all rental registration," said City Attorney Al Felix. "It gives you more time to look at all of the policy-related questions."