Voluntary inspections proposed 

Landlords who want government safety certification for their rental units could volunteer for city inspections under a proposed ordinance approved on Dec. 3 by a Missoula City Council subcommittee.

The proposal from the Residential Standards and Safety Subcommittee calls for a new position to be created within the Public Works’ Building Inspection Division. A “code enforcement and education officer” would manage the safety inspection certification and also develop a campaign to inform the public about the new certification program and tenant rights.

“Some of the folks I’ve talked to fear that voicing any problems they have with their apartment or home will get them in trouble with their landlord,” says Ward 4 Council John Wilkins, chairman of the committee.

The ordinance would require payment of a fee by the person requesting the safety certification, landlord or tenant, in an amount to be determined later by the Council.

Wilkins hopes landlords will feel compelled to participate in the program, regardless of its voluntary nature, because renters will demand safety assurances.

“It’d be great if [the certification] were something people asked for before they moved in,” Wilkins says.

Keithi Worthington, a Deputy City Attorney who helped draft the ordinance, worries that good-natured landlords with safe properties will come asking for the certification, while slumlords could continue business as usual.

Geoffrey Bayliss, a property manager with Fidelity Management Services, Inc. who sat on the subcommittee, says market forces will decide whether or not landlords seek the safety certifications.

“I encourage anyone who owns property to make sure their properties are safe regardless of the program,” he says.

Worthington says Missoula wrestled with a mandatory safety inspection program last year only to find out it would break a Montana law barring landlord licensing.

The draft ordinance will now go before the Council’s Public Safety Committee. Wilkins says he hopes it will be considered when the city budget discussion begins in January.
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