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Bemidji City Council: Rental ordinance gets more time

A big sigh of relief was heard from the more than 50 people who attended the Bemidji City Council meeting Monday, as the council unanimously voted to hold off on approving changes to the city's rental housing ordinance.

Rental property owners, representatives from the Headwaters Landlord Association, real-estate agents and community members packed into council chambers, waiting to see what the city council would do.

The approved motion means the ad hoc committee of landlords, city councilors and city staff, which has met twice in recent months to discuss the proposed revisions of the ordinance, will be able to meet at least once more to work out the details of the ordinance.

Appointed by the city council, the committee was tasked with discussing the proposed changes to the ordinance and proposing alternatives, if any, to the city council. The council will likely vote on the revisions to the ordinance at its Sept. 19 meeting.

Three readings, a public hearing and a council majority vote are required for adoption.

"Obviously there appears to be significant issues that haven't had an opportunity to get back in front of that committee because of the lateness of suggestions," City Attorney Al Felix said. "I'm suggesting the most appropriate action is to continue the public hearing and the second reading once again at the second meeting in September."

A list of revised, proposed rental license/permit costs and citation fines can be found online at the city's website,

"As a member of the (rental) committee, I do not feel we have a consensus yet," Councilor Greg Negard said. "I don't feel comfortable yet. I think we need to have another meeting or two."

Local rental property owner and HLA member Harry Aylesworth said the audience's sigh of relief meant many people were not happy with the end product.

"I think the majority of people don't think they've had adequate input into the ordinance, and in the latest draft there were some changes that were put in there that came as a surprise to a lot of people," he said. "The relief came when people felt they be given proper time to give input on this to see if we can come up with more equitable plan for the ordinance."

Aylesworth said as an HLA member, he has been able to gather input from landlords and bring it back to the rental committee meetings. However, he added, a lot of the feedback has come later rather than earlier.

"As landlords, we've kind of come into this process a little late," he said. "I think most of us weren't aware of how far the process was along. It's been nice the city has been accommodating to allow us to give input so that we can change some of the things we don't think are necessarily good ideas and has allowed us to help the city address issues that are actually causing problems.

"Hopefully we can come up with a plan that is better for everyone."

Councilor Kevin Waldhausen, who is also on the rental committee, was pleased with the council's decision to postpone taking action on the ordinance revisions.

"We met twice and there are still some things in the ordinance that are unagreeable," he said. "There is a provision that some of the councilors do not want to deviate from. On the landlord side, that's one of their sticking points. So we need to come together and find an agreement."

One of the issues that have caused some debate between landlords and the city has been the structuring of permit fees and deadlines.

The ordinance draft states registration permits would expire Dec. 31. Permit renewal applications for the following year, along with the required fees, would have to be filed on or before Nov. 15 of the current year. The city would mail notice of registration renewal to the property owner on or before Oct. 1.

Rental permits previously issued prior to the passing of the ordinance would expire Dec. 31, 2011. Rental permits given prior to the ordinance, but due to expire after the ordinance passes and prior to Dec. 31, would be renewed and valid through Dec. 31, 2012.

"It would get everybody on the same fee structure by Jan. 1," Waldhausen said. "To somebody who had to renew their license in November and pay $150 and then a month later have to pay another $100, there needs to be a pro-rated structure. I agree with that. Maybe the intent was there in the ordinance, but it doesn't spell it out. It needs to be crystal clear."

Waldhausen said he is in no rush to hurry the process along because he wants to make sure the ordinance is well thought out.

"This way, when we do finally get an ordinance that is passed, both parties can say we did our best," he said. "We did what we thought was best and come to a similar agreement.