City Council makes progress on addressing issues in rental ordinance


Sam Greene/Iowa State Daily

Mayor John Halia and At-Large Representative Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen listen during a City Council meeting on Jan. 16, 2018.

Chris Anderson

Tuesday night, Ames City Council hosted a workshop regarding changes to the recently adopted Rental Housing Ordinance.

At the time of its passage, the council recognized the rental housing ordinance was not “perfect” and could result in unintended consequences or oversights. The workshop took place Feb. 20 to look at data collected by city staff, hear public input and decide how to move forward with altering the ordinance.

Further, Mayor John Haila stated the objective of the workshop was not to start all over, but to address issues in the current ordinance. Haila also asked the public to consider that compromise would be necessary when drafting changes to the ordinance.

City Staff presented a report to the council during the workshop that gave background on and provided potential solutions to eight major issues that the Council would discuss.

The first two issues dealt with a the possibility of allowing developers to add bedrooms or parking spaces to properties after the temporary moratorium expired.

After the passage of the rental ordinance, the council instated a temporary moratorium on issuance of rental letters of compliance. This effectively told developers they could not add bedrooms or parking spaces to rental properties in affected neighborhoods (neighborhoods close to campus, primarily to the West and South) until after April 30.

Staff essentially provided the council with two choices on these issues, should they allow more occupants (based on number of bedrooms and parking spaces) or not.

Amber Corrieri was the only member of City Council to vote against the housing ordinance at the time of its final reading. One of her reasons for opposition was she felt parking regulations tied into the rental ordinance should not apply city-wide.

Other members of the council, like Chris Nelson, acknowledged that parking was a sort of tool the city was using to regulate density in certain areas.

“Everything we are doing here is to regulate density,” Nelson said.

Another issue that came up was the council realized they did not know how many four to five bedroom homes would have reduced occupancy because of a lack of parking. Councilman David Martin moved to direct staff to collect data on this, to see how big of an impact parking regulations were having. This motion passed unanimously.

The council eventually came to a unanimous decision on parking when they decided to direct staff to modify the ordinance to maintain the parking regulations in moratorium areas only. These areas include student-heavy neighborhoods near campus with high numbers of rental properties.

When it came to adding bedrooms, Gloria Betcher shared photos of a house in her neighborhood provided by South Campus Area Neighborhood Association.

The house was having a porch enclosed and turned into another bedroom. Betcher spoke out against these “Franken-houses” and felt they should not allow developers to add bedrooms to increase occupants.

Corrieri said she would not support this motion as she felt they should allow people to invest in their property within reason. Nelson also worried about how permanent this kind of thing would be for rental property owners.

Council member Tim Gartin made a motion to tie the occupancy of a property to the current number of bedrooms, allowing developers to add bedrooms but not number of occupants. The motion passed with Corrieri and Nelson as the dissenting voices.

Betcher felt the council needed to do more to prohibit over development of properties and made a motion to disallow the expansion of the footprint of a structure or the enclosure of a portion of the structure, like a porch. This would only apply in the moratorium areas.

The vote passed in a tie breaking vote by Mayor John Haila.

The third issue had to do with a hypothetical situation that has been discussed. In this situation a non-adult living with their parents in a rental, could turn 18 and effectively put them over occupancy in the rental.

City Staff drafted language to address this which read: “An adult is defined as an individual that is 18 years of age or older. Excluded from this definition is the dependent to an adult, both sharing their primary residence as the location of the registered rental property.”

The council was pleased with this solution and unanimously decided to direct staff to implement this in the ordinance.

The fourth issue left the council the most confused and saw little progress made. Much of the time was spent discussing what information would be needed for the increasingly inevitable second workshop.

The fourth issue asked the question: should rental overlays be put in place and what would that look like? A rental overlay is a way of regulating the amount of rental properties in a certain area by percentage of rental properties.

City Staff looked at other cities that put in place overlay restrictions. Some of these regulated by percentage of rentals in a zone or block, while others made a distance requirement between rental properties.

Existing rental properties in violation of any restriction put in place would likely be grandfathered in, however letters of compliance would not be issued to rental properties if they exceeded the percentage or distance requirement. Betcher saw this as a way to “reclaim” properties in affected neighborhoods, like south of campus.

This debate was more or less tabled to a later workshop.

The fifth issue dealt with whether rental occupancy limits should apply city-wide or only in specified zones or neighborhoods. This issue also saw little progress during the workshop.

The sixth issue looked at what penalties would be imposed to property owners in violation of the ordinance. The recommendation from city staff was to wait and see how current penalties work before changing anything.

Some members of the council, like Corrieri, were in favor of harsher penalties for landlords in violation. Corrieri also brought up creating a requirement to have property owners have a property manager near properties to eliminate issues.

Ultimately, the council decided they needed more data on this and directed staff to collect it for a later workshop.

The seventh issue dealt with how Airbnbs would be treated under the ordinance. Many Airbnb “hosts” spoke in favor of Airbnbs and the benefits it provides to hosts and users.

The council, in a nearly unanimous decision, decided to regulate Airbnbs through the same criteria of other rental properties.

The eighth and final issue discussed dealt with a type of “loop-hole” in rental properties where parents could buy students homes and allow them to live there while renting out other rooms to other students.

Currently this is allowed in “owner-occupied” homes, although that can also mean immediate family relations of the owner. Because of this, Betcher moved to make it so “roomers” can only live with the owner if the owner actually lives in the house.

Gartin brought up that there would be a “$35 fix” to this, where parents could simply put the deed in the student’s name.

The motion passed, despite this, in a tie breaking vote by Mayor Haila.

There was also talk about extending the moratorium at the meeting. City Council Ex-Officio from Student Government, Robert Bingham, felt this would make virtually no difference as the majority of leases will have already been signed by the original expiration of the moratorium.

Although changes to the ordinance are starting to become more clear, nothing at this workshop had any immediate effects. The council simply directed staff to create more potential changes to the ordinance which could be enacted or not enacted at a future meeting.

It became clear during the meeting that a second workshop would be needed. This is tentatively scheduled for the third week in March, pushing back another workshop on storm drain issues.

Tim Gartin praised the way the community came together during the workshop. He shared that council had spent a “tremendous” amount of time on this issue and they received a large amount of input.

“This is the way local government is supposed to work,” Gartin said.