Adjusted rental code receives favorable response from the Bemidji City Council
A proposed new rental code was presented to the Bemidji City Council during a work session on Monday and could move forward during its next regular meeting.
BEMIDJI — An adjusted version of the proposed new rental code was presented to the Bemidji City Council during its work session on Monday, and could move forward as soon as next week.
The draft ordinance, which addresses language regarding occupancy, parking and enforcement within the rental code, among other updates, is the most recent version provided to the council after several months of revisions.
A proposed update to the rental code, which was last changed in 2011, was initially brought to the council in October but faced several delays through the months as the council members requested clarifications and revisions.
The original ordinance process was halted in December to allow for further public comment, which led to a listening session held in February. Feedback from that listening session has been worked into the current draft, and the council seemed hopeful that this version could be the one eventually adopted.
One of the primary revisions in the current draft deals with, and one that both the council and community had opinions on, is occupancy limits. In the 2011 rental code, occupancy is limited to either a family or up to four unrelated tenants.
Because some rental units could potentially house more than four individuals, the Headwaters Landlord Association advocated for increasing this limit to as many as a unit could safely accommodate.
This request has been worked into the current draft, which now allows for more than four unrelated tenants to live in a unit provided it has adequate square footage, appropriate egress windows and additional parking for each unrelated tenant added to the limit.
“The parking plan does not retroactively affect rentals that are already licensed in the city unless the owner or manager requests an increase in occupancy,” City Rental Inspector Ben Hein explained. “New rentals will have the same expectation.”
Landlords who would like to increase the occupancy of their existing rental units will need to show that these requirements are met before additional tenants could move in.
Enforcement of the ordinance has also been improved, an important item that could help protect tenants and landlords alike and prevent dire situations like that of the Ridgeway Apartments last year.
Now if one or several units become unsafe but the rest remain up to code, the city will be able to remove unit occupancy rather than close an entire building and displace its residents.
“That allows us to not have to pull the entire permit for the structure but only for one unit,” Hein said.
Bemidji’s rental strike program will continue as well, but with additional tenant protections that will allow them to directly dispute a strike if they feel it was not justified.
The council received the draft favorably and noted that it took into consideration several of the concerns that have been raised throughout the revision process.
“Not everyone’s getting everything they want, but everyone’s getting something in this,” said Ward 2 Councilor Josh Peterson. “This was a great collaboration of effort between everyone.”
Mayor Jorge Prince shared that he considered the delays worthwhile while acknowledging that they may have been frustrating.
“I think taking the time to hold a listening session, to start back from scratch, has paid off,” Prince stated. “This is the best version of this ordinance that we’ve seen.”
Prince also reminded the council of the possibility of planning a review the ordinance a year after it has been enacted.
“I think that’s a worthwhile endeavor for us, say in 12 months, just to see what the outcome is,” Prince said.
City staff indicated that they could prepare the current draft for the start of an ordinance process as soon as next Monday's council session, on April 3.