Rental Housing Codes and Inspections

Within a city’s overall building and housing stock is its assortment of rental property. While much of the housing and building code carries over to rental housing units, many cities also adopt unique provisions and inspection requirements. City officials should review their current rental housing codes and inspection schedules to ensure they properly regulate rental units.

Rental Housing Codes

Along with a city’s housing and building codes, rental housing codes can provide specific regulations for rental housing units in a city. Like the overall housing and building codes, rental housing codes should address building design standards that ensure safety while being practical. While there are a wide variety of items that rental housing codes can address, it is wise to at least cover basic safety concerns. This would include provisions on entry/exit areas, emergency procedures, fire extinguishers, smoke and fire detection systems, condition of appliances (heating, air conditioning, kitchen appliances, etc.), and structural or foundation requirements. Many codes also cover proper living standards that require adequate lighting, ventilation, sanitation (sewage and solid waste disposal), plumbing and occupancy practices. It is important to note that a bill approved during the 2017 legislative session removed a city’s authority to regulate the occupancy of residential rental property based on familial/non-familial status of the occupants.

Any codes adopted by the city council should also address enforcement authority. In larger cities, the code might call for the city administrator, city clerk or other staff member, such as a building official, to conduct inspections of rental housing units. Smaller cities typically do not have the budget capacity or need to hire a city employee to do this work and many hire an inspector on a contractual basis. This section of the code should describe the city’s ability to enter a rental property to conduct an inspection or if there is reasonable cause to believe a code violation exists. The code should also address how violations are to be handled and specify the time a property owner has to rectify any issues. Finally, the city should detail how appeals will be heard and the process for a property owner to follow if they wish to appeal a citation.

Rental Housing Permits & Licenses

Similar to building permits, many cities require rental property owners to first apply to the city for a rental permit. This notifies the city of the property and also serves to inform the property owner of what the city requires of rental property. Each city can decide what information should be included on its application and it is wise to include the basics such as the address, number of units and/or sleeping rooms, owner contact information, and any permit and inspection fees. Any permit fees should be addressed in the rental housing code as well.

Inspection Provisions and Schedules

It is important that rental housing codes detail how the city will perform inspections, when inspections of rental properties will occur and how the city will notify property owners of upcoming inspections. Many cities require a rental housing unit to receive an inspection before a rental permit is granted and then call for a regular inspection schedule to be followed throughout the life of the property (many cities use a three year cycle for rental inspections). Essentially, an inspection checks to see if a property meets the city’s rental housing code. As such, inspectors will ensure that units meet the safety and design standards and look for any issues and violations. Since codes can be amended over time, inspectors will also look to see if property owners have maintained their units to meet any code changes. Items such as fire extinguishers, entries and exits, or appliances may have met previous requirements but are now outdated.

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