Rental code proposal draws public backlash

Marshall Council takes proposal back to drawing board after public hearing

Photo by Deb Gau Attorney Keven Stroup speaks on behalf of a group of Marshall landlords at a public hearing on a proposed rental housing code.

MARSHALL — A public hearing on a proposed rental housing code for the city of Marshall drew some strong responses — both from Marshall landlords who said the proposal was too broad, and from advocates who called for better protections for renters.

A crowd of more than 30 people attended a Tuesday hearing, and the public comment session went on for almost an hour. But in the end, members of the Marshall City Council sent the proposal back to the drawing board rather than acting on it.

At the close of the hearing, council members directed city staff to continue working on a possible rental code.

“I’d like to hear more from the tenants’ side of it,” said council member James Lozinski.

The city had been talking about creating a rental code since 2021.

“We started down the path of a rental ordinance that had regular inspections,” said Marshall Public Works Director Jason Anderson. “After numerous meetings throughout the year of 2022 … we have since amended that program.”

A proposed code brought forward last month included requirements that all residential rental buildings be registered with the city. Anderson said that while the proposal no longer included regular housing code inspections, it did allow for inspections if tenants brought complaints to the city.

Under the proposed code, residential rental properties would also be required to have a person responsible for maintenance and responding to emergencies within an hour. There were also conditions for short-term rentals, including limits on on-street parking outside the rental property.

Marshall area residents spoke out on both sides of the issue. Some property owners, like Greg Taylor, asked the city what exactly it was trying to address through the rental code.

“I’d like to know some answers, of what problems we’ve had in the past that you couldn’t address without all this new bureaucracy and this expense that’s going to come,” Taylor said.

Attorney Kevin Stroup also spoke at the hearing. Stroup said he had been retained by a group of about 15 landlords who had concerns about the proposed rental code.

“The current draft still has issues,” Stroup said.

Property owners had concerns about proposed registration fees, the emergency response requirement, and the proposal to allow inspections if there is a complaint. The proposed rental code would open the city to lawsuits, and shift more costs to rental tenants, Stroup said.

“If we’re not having problems to fix, you’re creating problems by having this ordinance,” Stroup said. “This ordinance is not appropriate, not nearly appropriate, not thought through. City employees may think it’s a good idea. Landlords are upset.”

Other property owners also questioned the need for the proposed rental code.

“Tenants do have a voice, it’s the state of Minnesota,” property owner Robert Arends said. “We have things in place to protect the tenants, and hold landlords or property managers accountable. That’s why I’m trying to wrap my head around why there is going to be more of that, and more officials coming in and dealing with situations that tenants should have knowledge of.”

Other community members who spoke at the hearing shared stories of not being able to get repairs, or get rid of pests or mold in rental housing in Marshall.

“Many, many tenants that I have spoken to over the last couple of weeks have noted that they have had a lot of issues with repairs, but they’re not only unaware of recourse through the city, but they’re also legitimately afraid of retaliation for coming up and speaking tonight,” said Misty Butler.

Butler read a letter she said was from a resident of Windsong Apartments in Marshall, which talked about problems with black mold and leaks that were never fixed, and roaches.

Brianna Holmquist also spoke about her experiences renting an apartment in Marshall when she was a college student. Some of the main problems she experienced included damage from leaks, mold and roaches, as well as a lack of heat before December.

“I came to the city about that issue back in 2016, 2017. They told me they weren’t going to do anything because there was no ordinance that said landlords had to turn the heat on,” Holmquist said. “That’s how I lived. It’s been years, but it still hurts.”

“What, in the future, is going to be done for tenants? If 44% of the city rents, that’s over 5,000 people,” said Shawn Butler. “Where’s the protections for the tenants? I guess the ask is, send it back to the committee, and try to add something to it that protects the residents who are renting.”

“I want to thank everybody who came here tonight to express your concerns,” said council member Craig Schafer. After the hearing, Schafer said he thought the city needed to continue to work on the proposal instead of passing it. “I think that obviously there’s a number of questions that need to be answered, and some things that need to be sorted through.”

Lozinski said the city needed to weigh tenants’ feedback in addition to property owner feedback.

“If tenants are afraid to speak, we need to give them an environment to speak,” he said.

Council members voted to close the public hearing, and then directed city staff to do more work on the proposal.

On Wednesday, Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson said she thought city staff would approach the mayor and council about forming a work group made up of representatives of the city council, property owners and tenant advocates to talk about possible solutions. However, it’s not yet certain when that might be put on the council agenda.


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