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Duluth’s War on Renters

Reading the DNT yesterday I was dismayed to learn that the Duluth City Council is planning on another ordinance that will drive up rental costs, take units off the market, and generally make it harder to be a non-homeowner in Duluth.

There is no draft of the proposed ordinance available yet, so we are dependent on the DNT’s reporting of the plan, but it seems that the City Council wants to:

  • Impose a conversion fee on any non-rental being turned into a rental property;
  • Require an inspection of any property to be converted (the city admits it is years behind in inspections, so this would mean a longer delay on new rentals coming to market);
  • Restrict occupancy to 1 person / bedroom (meaning a couple with 2 children would require a 4-br house);
  • Fine landlords who do not provide off-street parking.

As a renter in Duluth I am pretty upset that my rent will go up due to these new rules (unless my landlord turns the front yard into a parking pad), and that somehow people think making it more expensive to live in town will reduce overcrowding in student housing.  My wife and I live in a nice 2-br house, but it would be illegal to have her sister live in our spare bedroom when she is out of college for the summers.  Does that make any sense to anyone?

The 300-foot rule already restricts the available rental housing stock in Duluth, driving up prices, do we really need to make it worse?

34 Comments

Chad

about 9 years ago

1 person per bedroom?  So, a couple with no children apparently needs 2 bedrooms?  If that's true, then what a load this proposal is.

Steven

about 9 years ago

I think you misunderstand the facts.  I know there is not a lot of information out there yet, but I do know that while it is one adult per bedroom, there is an exception for their significant other.  So a married or dating couple could share one bedroom, but three frat guys could not share that same one bedroom.  That should ease some of your concern. 

I think the main thrust of this is to get a better idea of who is renting to what...and this isn't a war of the city versus the landlord, but the City acting on concerns from some citizens to improve city wide regulation.  I think, in part, the issues with noise and limited off street parking is driving this too.

I think if we all keep an open mind, and open ears, we will learn more as things develop.

heysme

about 9 years ago

Admitting they are years behind on inspections shows adding more regulation will not solve any issue.
Inspecting and enforcing current regulation is the solution. 
Where is this revenue coming from to add more inspectors? From the citations they will write?

Paul Lundgren

about 9 years ago

"... a married or dating couple could share one bedroom, but three frat guys could not."

I'm assuming such a ridiculous rule will not actually be considered, but to play along ...

I guess Frat Boy #1 will have to tell Mr. Roper that he's "dating" Frat Boy #2. I better start working on my Three's Company in Duluth scripts. Hollywood, here I come.

chadp

about 9 years ago

What's the evidence to suggest that rental properties are currently over-occupied? I walk by several for-rent signs every day on my way to UMD.  It's possible that building more dorms and the newer student housing off of Rice Lake Road has increased the supply side of the equation thus putting downward pressure on rent.  Of course I am pulling all of this out of my butt but it sounds just as valid of a speculation as any of the statements in posts above arguing that rent will increase.

Claire

about 9 years ago

OMG... my problem with this is, like OPs have pointed out, there's the problem of the government legislating people's lifestyles. But I do think these houses should be inspected -- a few years ago, one of the renters across our alley was living in the tiny shed behind the house. That lasted until December.

edgeways

about 9 years ago

Soooo... we have

1. A fee (how much?) to turn a building into a rental.

2. An inspection of the building before it can be done (paid for by the fee?)

3. An occupancy rule that is not as dire as originally posted.

4. An attempt to move cars off the street, which given the amount of snow removal there is seems to be at least a reasonable debating point.

All this hand wringing and there isn't even a draft to look at yet to confirm the DNT story?

Personally I think inspections of essentially commercial property is reasonable, a fee to help pay for that inspection ... sure, finding a way to avoid having 10 people in a one-bedroom apartment ... yeah OK, and trying to move cars off residential streets for snow removal purposes is at least worth talking about.

mull

about 9 years ago

Duluth has housing problems!  The rent is too damn high and the majority of the rentals out there are under maintained and disgusting (this due to landlords and tenants).  The majority of them are also taken by college students.  This seems leave everyone else that doesn't own a house out in the cold, living in a dump (somewhere that the most uncaring college kid can afford) or living somewhere no other college kid could afford.  

The prices are already too high because landlords can charge per bedroom at a high cost... what about a couple and a baby?  

These rules obviously won't help matters at all.

Why can't we have an open discussion with the campus and SA to find a way to promote/build more student housing?  Having gone to UMD I remember clearly that when I hit junior year if I lived on campus still I was a total loser.

There also are no jobs in Duluth!  How can anyone afford living here that isn't a student anyway!  Maybe if we could make more jobs we could fill the rentals with non-college student tenants?

It's all easier said than done.

James

about 9 years ago

That is true, very limited jobs for the rent they are asking.

Claire

about 9 years ago

Mull & James, you two are right, I remember when we moved here right after grad school, we rented a place in Supetown, and our rental  was like $200 more for a comparable place here than in our college town back in North Carolina, that had lots of rentals for non-college students. It's not worth renting here, you gotta buy.

jt

about 9 years ago

I just looked at ShipRock apts the places cost too much money and are in awful condition.

hbh1

about 9 years ago

My concern is the idea that you have to pay a fee to have a roommate. I can own a house, and if I want to rent out my spare bedroom, I'd have to go to the city to get permission? I'm against it, on strict laziness and gimme-a-break principles. Okay, tenants need to have rights. I'm down with that. Overcrowding and cars parking on the front lawn is a legitimate concern. But dammit, why should I have to worry about whether or not I'm charging rent to my first cousin for the spare bedroom? 

Now, maybe that's not the spirit of the law being proposed. But if the letter of the law is that I could have an Enemy Neighbor calling up the city because they suspect we in our house are not all either sleeping together or related by blood, I've got a problem with that.

Claire

about 9 years ago

hbh1, are you renting that gorgeous house? Damn, I'd buy it, just to be safe from an over-encroaching State!

hbh1

about 9 years ago

I don't believe you are talking about the house I now live in, Claire. Gorgeous would be a serious stretch. And no, we are not renting. Or "renting". However, I did once rent two rooms in my former home on N. 2Oth while I was living there.

JJ

about 9 years ago

I gotta say landlords get it easy for the most part, they are clearly making bank.  My last place was a house, with what I can only describe as illegal rooms in the basement, one of the rooms was mine.  Totally unsafe, just thrown up plywood, no insulation between rooms or the floor above, and with a cloth ceiling which is totally unsafe.  I had no idea though this being my first rental, this place is a perfect reason why inspections should be brought up to date, renters especially first time renters need to be able to have safe clean spaces to live in.  That said my apartment now, closer to downtown, is nice but the last people who lived her were evicted and we came in to a mess, cleaned it all up at our own cost and now love it but we have no neighbors on our floor, showing how rent is too high, and our building has had inspections 3 times since moving in, all for a window here or a door here.  Consolidating issues when inspecting would be one idea to help move the process along.  I remember one day they literally had to make sure my front door closed slowly enough.  People just want a safe reasonably priced place to live, I can't say all renters are perfect but do we all have to be punished by the frat boy stereotype.

Matt Standal

about 9 years ago

Some Confusing statements above. 

I was at the meeting.
Here's a simplification.  

City Council Hears New Rental Ordinance

1. If you (or your parents) are the owner and live in the home, it's not considered a rental.

2. Yes, the added fees will pay for another city inspector and a cop to enforce the code.

3. The City hopes this strategy will curb blighted properties and get excessive cars off the street. 

4. Will landlord fees go up? Yes. 

5. Will they be significantly higher?  No.  

6. The City's Chief Administrator says the average 3 year rental fee on a single-family home will likely rise by about 50 to 80 dollars.  That's around 20-30 more dollars per year that COULD be absorbed by renters. 

7. This plan will be approved by Jan. 1.  So if you want to give the city your two-cents. Show up at the meeting.

Cheers!

adam

about 9 years ago

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thedud

about 9 years ago

Matt - you didn't address the number of residents per room issue.  As the city has decided to fast track this legislation, but not publish any information about it, we're stuck with a sea of conjecture.

To all the folks defending increased regulation of rentals - I am sure most of you own your homes, and I wish I had $30,000 in the bank so we could buy a house of our own, but we don't right now.  This isn't a class warfare thing, but do you think people who are making 9 dollars an hour can afford to save up for a house down payment?  Do you think it is easy for someone making $1,500 a month to afford Duluth's artifically inflated rents?  All the people who have their parents paying their rent may not care, but I am paying more rent here than I paid in the SF Bay Area to live in the attic room of a house I shared with 5 other people - that is crazy.

David

about 9 years ago

Duluth's rentals are inflated, maybe, kind of, depends on the neighborhood.  Close to campus, they cost about what you would expect for close to campus.  That's easy.  To rail against that injustice seems silly.  There are other, more affordable parts of town.  Just like everywhere.

As best as I can tell, no one will care how much money you take family for.

Everything else seems reasonable to me.  No cause for outrage.

OGDuluthian

about 9 years ago

Claire, I think that most posters here are missing the big picture item at hand. We have a local city government (quite liberal and DFL controlled) that has been attempting to add regulations that are quite controlling and are the reasons that the rents increase. If the mayor/city council would quit trying to control the rental market, the rules of supply and demand would settle out the rental prices the old fashioned way. It is quite simple to see that all these added layers of governmental ordinances, fees, regulations, ect. do nothing more that force the local rents higher.

B-man

about 9 years ago

The 300 foot rule and these proposed rules are aiming at different outcomes.

The 300 foot rule is to spread out the lucrative college rental market to other "interests" in the parts of town that students typically do not want to live.

This new legislation seems to be trying to enforce the "lifestyle" of middle class white folks.

Speaking culturally, forcing families to conform to your rules of who can live together, and in what density seems stepping over the boundaries.

Claire

about 9 years ago

I'm with B-Man --with the caveat that rentals should be inspected reguarly, so we don't have tragedies like what happened in the Twin Cities a few years ago. For instance, people should not be living in unheated sheds behind houses. But if unmarried people or friends want to share a room, that's fine with me, god knows I've shared plenty of rooms with roommates who were unrelated to me.

OG Duluthian -- for your information, Councilor Stauber has *always* been one of the leading proponents of more regulation of rentals, and the 300-foot rule, so stop blaming the "liberal, DFL-controlled" councilors for everything. Sheez.

OGDuluthian

about 9 years ago

Claire, maybe you should grab a dictionary and look up the meaning of "controlled." I was pointing out that the current elected city officials are the ones pushing the added gov't rules/regulations that is causing the rental problems. I do not disagree that Councilor Stauber is the one pushing the 300' rule, but that is only one of the problems. He is in the minority when it comes to the ordinances that have been passed regarding this issue. You really need to loosen up the straps on your Berkinstocks and take off the blinders.

Claire

about 9 years ago

OG, I don't even own a pair of Birkenstocks.

OGDuluthian

about 9 years ago

Subaru Outback w/ faded out "Wellstone" bumber sticker??

baci

about 9 years ago

I thought I'd stay out of this one because you all know about my lefty pinko totalitarian desires to have the exhaulted ministry of uber government control every aspect of our lives. But I wanted to let you know there are more reaonable people than I involved in making this VERY SENSIBLE municipal legislation come about

Campus Neighbors Position Packet re: Rental reform. Suffice to say, you should all support this because it will get me to shut up about how important the 300' rule is.

Claire

about 9 years ago

Ha ha, OG, not even the Outback with the Wellstone sticker. Sorry to dismantle your stereotypes one by one.

ian

about 9 years ago

Requiring off street parking for rentals... Trying to wrap my head around that one.

Know of at least one rental that a friend owns that would probably be easier to sell than add parking (which would require excavating from 4th St up to the front porch)... Not even sure if adding parking would be an option due to existing ordinances.

IMO, address the problem with enforcing existing ordinances before creating more.

Claire

about 9 years ago

Ian, there are 2 cars crammed in a little driveway at the rental in the alley across from me, and a third car parked in the alley itself next to that shed I've mentioned before. This is a problem. I think there should be some kind of requirement re cars and tenants and parking and such. I know one of these days I'm going to forget about that car parked in the alley across from me and bash into it as I back up out of my driveway.

Why do all these students have to own cars anyway? They live within walking distance of campus and can take the DTA for free.

Sonya

about 9 years ago

thedud--Actually, I did save up to buy a home while making $9-10 an hour.  (It should be noted that I am single and childless, which also helps.)  The FAIM program through Community Action made buying a home very doable.  There's also the Land Trust, which helps lower income people buy affordable homes.  

Rent is indeed expensive in Duluth, but I think home prices are (or can be) comparatively cheap.  I bought a very decent and livable (although in need of updating) house in the Hillside for $65,000 last year.  My mortgage is way cheaper than the rent on my last apartment.

baci

about 9 years ago

@Ian,

That's the point. That house (and the neighborhood it's in) was never intended to have the current density of vehicles(and their human slaves) in them. Parking is the only leverage we have to address the real issues here, it's a sad barometer but a good one.

ian

about 9 years ago

@Claire:  Call the 5-0 if the car is parked illegally, or better yet talk to your neighbor in person.  Or if they don't move their car, contact the landlord, problem solved.

@Baci:  I just cannot justify punishing property owners across the board because of isolated incidents.

baci

about 9 years ago

@Ian, it's not isolated. It's endemic in the mixed use neighborhoods surrounding the schools.

zra

about 9 years ago

@ ian: contact the landlord? And do what exactly? Talk to them? Reason with them? Yeah, fat chance. With many of such living in cities other than here, or Mickey Mouse outfits like ShipWreck, "contacting the landlord" is easier said than done. Additionally if you're fortunate to actually find someone to talk to, getting something done is another topic altogether.

We have two resources that we know work: the tenants themselves, and the local constabulary. When the first resource fails (which it often does after that first kegger) we rely on the second.

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