City council to reconsider rental cap exemptions at Tuesday’s meeting


Ames City Council meets for their consideration on a rental cap proposal at their May 22 meeting. 

Devyn Leeson

Rental cap exemptions are back on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The ordinance, which was vetoed in early August, must go through three passages like it did in its first iteration. However, the council discussed waiving second and third readings of the ordinance at the Aug. 14 meeting. This would mean the ordinance could take effect following its passage Tuesday.

That is, if the council decides they don’t have further deliberation needed on the ordinance.

When the council had passed the exemptions on a 4-1 vote at the end of July, the ordinance had seemingly come to its final iteration. But following Mayor John Haila’s veto — the first veto by an Ames mayor in 29 years — the council had more changes to make on the ordinance they had been discussing since May.

At the Aug. 14 meeting, which followed the veto, the first change, which was focused on the bona fide rental language, passed 5-1. The change added at previous council meetings allows for single-room renters who are also family members to allow a property owner to receive a Letter of Compliance — the document required to rent a property.

That change means the exemptions will only apply to one and two-bedroom homes.

Under this change, a property with three or more bedrooms would not be able to keep their Letter of Compliance if the property owner lives in their home while also having a roomer.

Ames City Council staff said the change would close some of the loopholes associated with the previous language. More specifically, it would prevent a family from claiming they rent a room to one of their adult children and keep a Letter of Compliance indefinitely.

The sole vote against the motion was Ward-1 Representative Gloria Betcher.

“Even one property is more than zero,” Betcher said. “Those are more houses we have to reclaim over the course of the ordinance if we want to return the rental percentage to 25 percent.”

The “bona fide” section was the main reason Haila had originally refused to sign the ordinance as he felt the language was “inconsistent” with the council’s goals.

In a statement from the city of Ames, Haila vetoed the rental cap exemptions when the definition of bona fide was expanded to include “an owner-occupied dwelling with a non-owner occupant who pays rent.”

“I believe that the spirit and principle of what council has worked on for months was compromised,” Haila said in the statement.

The council also directed staff to make the following changes or suggestions: provide a definition for “bona fide rental,” change the application deadline from Sept. 1, 2018, to 30 days from the effective date of the ordinance.

The date change was necessary to ensure there was an ample amount of time for people to apply for the hardship exemptions. If the ordinance were to have passed at Tuesday’s meeting without this change, Ames residents would have been given three days to apply for the exemptions.

In the new draft of the ordinance, staff incorporated the changes listed above and defined a bona fide rental as “a rental in which a genuine, legitimate landlord/tenant relationship exists between a landlord or owner and at least one non-owner tenant.”

The definition for bona fide rental originally excluded people based on familial status until the City Attorney Mark Lambert raised constitutional equal opportunity concerns.

By calling someone a legitimate renter based on their familial status, the courts could say there is inequity and constitutional issues, Lambert said.

The rental exemptions are in direct response to a rental cap passed in May that limited the number of rental properties in seven neighborhoods near campus to 25 percent. The cap has created financial hardships for some that the council wanted to address with the ordinance.

The ordinance needs to pass with four votes — the same requirement it has had for every passage.