Safety in units 

To members of Missoula’s Public Safety and Health Committee, advancing the proposed rental safety inspection ordinance to City Council felt, at times, like moving a couch through a door. With a public hearing now set for the Council meeting April 14, proponents just have to make sure the couch doesn’t get left out on the front lawn.

On April 2, after almost three months of deliberation, supporters finally got a draft of the ordinance out of committee and ready for comment at the Council level. The program, if approved, would allow landlord or tenant to order a safety inspection at sliding-scale fees, starting at $35 for a single unit. The point, according to chief architect Jon Wilkins, would be to raise the bar for rental conditions, and give safe units a stamp of approval.

The proposal seems to enjoy strong support. Councilman Dave Strohmaier on Monday publicly handicapped its chances as very high.

“We’ve been trying to establish a consensus, and I think we’ve been fairly successful,” says housing advocate Denver Henderson, one of the ordinance’s key negotiators.

However, it remains to be seen exactly how Missoula’s property owners will react to this piece of local housing market regulation.  Dozens of landlords and landlord groups have expressed concerns throughout the drafting process. Missoula Organization of Realtors president Perry Deschamps has told the Independent in the past that his group worries vagueness in the law could grant inspectors undue powers. (Deschamps did not return a call to comment on the latest version of the ordinance.)

“To be honest, it’s been a little disappointing working with the realtors,” says Henderson. “We are yet to get a solid, definitive answer from MOR whether they’ll support the ordinance.”

Lambros Real Estate CEO Bruno Friia says his company will take advantage of the inspection program but believes that, logistically, the proposal lacks the teeth to really affect housing market conditions. He predicts that the sheer volume of demand will overrun available resources, leading to a program more closely resembling a first-grade teacher handing out gold stars.

“What does it do for anyone other than make some politicians feel good about what they’re doing?” Friia says.

“I don’t think it’s a touchy-feely thing,” Councilman Wilkins responds. “I think it’s a real problem here in Missoula.”
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