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Metro Council OKs new rules requiring registration, inspections of rental properties

A red and white for rent sign in front of an apartment building with landscaping
Jacob Munoz
/
LPM
A "for rent" sign at a Highlands-Douglass apartment building.

In an effort to crack down subpar rental housing and slumlords, Louisville Metro will soon require owners of rental properties to register with the city. Code Enforcement officers will also perform proactive inspections.

Metro Council approved sweeping changes to its little-used rental housing registry Thursday night, offering more incentives for landlords to file with the city. Supporters of the legislation also argued that making the registry public, along with the names and contact information of property owners, will allow tenants and neighbors to hold landlords accountable for properly maintaining their properties.

District 12 Council Member Rick Blackwell was one of the primary sponsors of the ordinance, alongside Democratic colleagues Keisha Dorsey, Jecorey Arthur and Nicole George.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Blackwell said bars, restaurants and retail businesses are already required to register with the city and submit to inspections for code violations. He said rental properties, which are also operated as businesses, should be no different.

“People need to be able to go to a business and say, ‘Hey, your business is not being kept up,’” Blackwell said. “Anywhere in the city, if you’ve got an issue with a business, you can get a hold of an owner … That’s not been the case with these businesses we have in people’s neighborhoods.”

The legislation, which underwent at least ten revisions over six months before its final passage, was not without opposition. Some Metro Council members and landlords argued the new regulations will burden property owners who try to do right by their tenants.

‘Some sort of change is coming’

In an interview, District 4 Council Member Jecorey Arthur recounted the issues he’s seen inside public housing developments in his district. Arthur represents residents of Louisville’s central business district, as well as the NuLu, Russell and Butchertown neighborhoods.

“Black mold in people’s kitchens. Ceilings caving in. Roaches crawling on kids,” Arthur said. “No one in the world should be living like this and, unfortunately, they are right here in our home town.”

Arthur, one of the sponsors of the ordinance, said he’s hopeful that the legislation will lead to improved conditions in public housing and private rentals. He said it might also help Metro Council members better serve their constituents.

“Having transparency and contact with the landlords and property managers gives us another way to get in contact with the tenants,” Arthur said. “When we have a program available, whether it’s rental assistance money, money for food, any social service that tenants in our district might need, that’s another avenue to get in contact with them.”

Blackwell, whose South End district includes parts of Pleasure Ridge Park and Valley Station, said he’s heard similar stories from some tenants in his area. He said one constituent — a grandmother taking care of two children — contacted his office about having to warm her home using her oven because her landlord refused to fix her heating.

Blackwell said making landlords’ contact information publicly available through the rental registry will also allow neighbors and city officials to get issues with problem tenants or property upkeep addressed.

“I think there’s two issues: The tenant needs to be able to get a response from the landlord, and the neighbors need to be able to get ahold of the business owner,” he said.

Property owners will be required under the new changes to register with the city within six months. Louisville has had a rental registry since 2016, but officials say just a small percentage of rental properties were actually registered and there was little if any enforcement of the registration requirements.

Registering properties with the city will cost landlords anywhere from $25 to $250, depending on the number of rental units. But if they register on time and aren’t cited for any code violations, the city will waive the annual fee to re-register for up to 10 years. Properties already part of the rental registry will be grandfathered in, unless they have active code violations.

Failure to register could result in a fine of up to $100 for each unregistered rental unit and a mandatory code enforcement inspection. Supporters hope the “carrot and stick” approach will help officials get better compliance.

Some property owners have spoken out against the ordinance, saying it would place an additional burden on landlords and potentially drive up housing costs and evictions.

At a recent Metro Council meeting, real estate investor Nina Musgrave said she thinks it's unfair that random inspections would target properties already registered with the city.

“They’re doing the right thing,” she said. “What about the rest of the housing stock in our community?”

Musgrave added that she believes the ordinance could lead to more evictions, because tenant-caused damages will be under more scrutiny.

District 26 Council Member Brent Ackerson was one of four lawmakers to vote against the ordinance Thursday night. At a committee meeting last week, Ackerson echoed Musgrave’s concern about burdening “good actors.” He said the issue is the city’s inability to enforce existing laws against problem property owners, not the need for more legislation.

“My hope is that with an incoming new mayor, a new administration, we may be able to address that,” he said. “That might mean hiring more officers. It might mean focusing more financial resources on the problems. But I’m not in agreement with creating more legislation when we cannot deal with the legislation we have presently.”

More code enforcement officers?

In addition to the rental registry changes, the ordinance will also require Code Enforcement officers to proactively inspect more than 30,000 properties each year. It’s the first time Louisville Metro will have this kind of enforcement for housing standards, rather than reactively responding to complaints.

While the legislation initially called for inspections across Jefferson County, an amendment recently approved by Metro Council’s Public Works Committee scaled that back. The inspections will instead focus on 11 market areas where at least a third of residents are renters. Codes department staff will choose 10% of rental units within those areas for inspection.

District 3 Council Member Keisha Dorsey, one of the ordinance sponsors, said that change preserves the spirit of the legislation while addressing concerns around the resulting costs to the city.

“We are specifically looking at areas of town where there is a high density of rental housing and we are still going to be proactive in this,” Dorsey said during the committee meeting.

Estimates presented by city officials in September showed implementing the ordinance could cost as much as $3.3 million in the first year of implementation, then $2.3 million every year after. Hiring more enforcement officers, purchasing vehicles for them and creating an online system for accepting registrations made up the bulk of the estimated cost.

Supporters of the ordinance said limiting proactive inspections to areas with higher amounts of renters, mostly in Louisville’s urban core, would cut the estimated costs by more than half. The ordinance was also recently amended to add inspection exemptions for newly built rentals and those with recent renovations.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.