The Lincoln City Council on Monday postponed a vote on a controversial rental housing ordinance to next week so renters groups and landlords can continue discussing ways to tweak it and possibly reach consensus.

The ordinance proposed by Democratic Councilman Carl Eskridge creates a mandatory registry for all rental properties and increases the triggers for top-to-bottom inspections of apartment buildings in Lincoln.

The bill started a dialogue, one that drew more than three hours of public comment at a City Council meeting May 6. 

And Democratic Councilwoman Jane Raybould said she wanted to give the council, property owner groups and renters advocates more time to talk and work out specific issues in the bill. 

But even how long the vote should be delayed was a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats on the council. 

Councilman Roy Christensen wanted to push the vote to June 10, when the newly elected City Council could vote on it. 

Voting sooner wouldn't give enough time to a key stakeholder, the Realtors Association of Lincoln, because the organization's leadership was out of state for a conference, Christensen said. 

Councilman Jon Camp said the bill was put forth with little input from property owners and pressure on the council to push it through.

"I feel like there’s been a gun put to the heads of some of the organizations here," Camp said. 

Raybould said she believed the ordinance helps improve the quality of existing rentals, and if adequate progress isn't made by next Monday, the vote can be postponed longer. 

Her delay was adopted by the council on a 5-1 vote following the failure of Christensen's motion to postpone it further.

Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm wasn't at Monday's meeting. 

The proposed ordinance follows debate in the Legislature earlier this year prompted by the discovery of dilapidated, unsanitary housing conditions at an Omaha apartment complex where many refugees lived.

Eskridge's proposal would be one of the last considered by the current council at its final meeting next Monday. Later that day, three newly elected council members will be sworn in.

"Selfishly, I’ve got a week left, and I really would like to have a hand in deciding this if we’re ready," said Eskridge, who opted not to seek re-election.

Last year, Lincoln's five city housing inspectors investigated more than 1,500 complaints and found violations in 620 rentals. There are 3,000 licensed apartment buildings in Lincoln with about 40,000 units, according to the city.

Only about a dozen apartment buildings faced top-to-bottom examinations by the city due to the current code violation thresholds, Building and Safety Director Chad Blahak said. 

Landlords who have opposed the ordinance called it an overly broad proposal that will only increase the costs of housing while failing to address the bad actors. 

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Blahak said his staff hasn't projected how many properties the proposed ordinance would affect but this effort isn't about increasing the numbers. Rather, it gives inspectors more tools to further address problem properties, he said.

All housing complaints are investigated, and if violations are found, the city puts the property on an inspection schedule to make sure the problem gets corrected, Blahak said.

All licensed apartment buildings are initially inspected inside and out, and then checked annually to ensure the exterior and common areas meet code, he said.

Last month, Omaha passed an ordinance requiring the inspection of all rental properties every 10 years, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Eskridge's ordinance includes a landlord registry like the Omaha ordinance. 

But his ordinance wouldn't subject single family rental homes and duplexes to an inspection schedule. They would just need to register. 

Mayor-Elect Leirion Gaylor Baird said in an interview last week she doesn't favor Lincoln adopting a universal inspection program like Omaha's because the city needs to be smart about how it uses its resources. 

She favors a more targeted approach that zeros in on problem landlords, she said.

"We need to be looking out for the quality of housing for all of our residents, not just the vast majority," Gaylor Baird said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.



Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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