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Morris City Council approves new rental housing ordinance

The Morris City Council approved a new rental housing ordinance at their meeting Tuesday. The new ordinance clarifies building code and policy language and requires that rental arrangements made through a contract for deed conform with rental ordinance policies.

During a public hearing on the ordinance, Melanie Fohl, executive director of the Morris Housing and Redevelopment Authority, explained the ordinance changes to the council.

First, the new ordinance removes the word "fire" as one of the building codes the HRA enforces, although Fohl said inspectors would be working with the state fire marshal and Morris Fire Chief Dave Dybdal to make sure they know what issues to look for during rental inspections.

The ordinance also more clearly defines properties that are exempt from the ordinance to include homeowners on an academic sabbatical, a visiting professorship, or on active duty service with the military, provided they are renting their home for less than a year.

Fohl said the new ordinance also clarifies the administrative process and sets the Morris Rental Housing Commission as the body to hear appeals, removes defined building standards to instead refer to the state building code, and requires that houses being rented through a contract for deed rather than a lease be registered with the county.

City Manager Blaine Hill said that contract for deed arrangements are becoming a problem, especially in the Twin Cities, because they allow homeowners to get around rental licensing and inspections.

Fohl told the council that these arrangements do happen in Morris, which she finds out about because tenants approach her with a problem. Sometimes, she said, tenants don't know the difference between a contract for deed and a lease or are confused about the arrangement.

"We want to clarify that those situations are going to be part of the rental ordinance unless they're reported at the county," said Fohl. "Then there are some protections that are set in motion for them when they record those contracts for deed."

The new rental housing ordinance will officially go into effect 30 days after it is published in the newspaper.

The council also approved fees for the rental house licensing program, adding a new $250 fee for failing to register a rental property.