The Lincoln City Council on Monday passed a scaled-back ordinance aimed at improving rental housing in the city following concerns it would unfairly punish good landlords.
The new ordinance, passed 6-1, requires only landlords found to have violated housing code to register with the city, while also beefing up the legal triggers allowing inspectors to check buildings top-to-bottom.
Proposed by Councilman Carl Eskridge last month, the ordinance led to more than three hours of testimony nearly evenly divided between renters' advocates and property owners and managers.
As proposed, the ordinance would have required the owners of all duplex and single-family rental homes to register with a one-time $15 fee. It also added new and different thresholds to trigger top-to-bottom inspections of apartment buildings.
It was pitched as a means for the city to help inspectors get in touch with the owners of rental homes and duplexes. But those owners would not have faced the same inspection requirements as apartment building owners, according to the city.
Renters believe the added registry and beefed-up inspection schedules would hold bad landlords accountable.
But landlords worried the $15-per-building registration fee would increase their expenses and make housing less affordable for renters while failing to correct the behavior of bad landlords.
Initially set for a vote last week, Councilwoman Jane Raybould delayed it for a week, and property owner groups worked with council members on changes.
Eskridge said they came up with a "modest" ordinance.
In addition to only targeting landlords who have violated city code, the new ordinance stripped a requirement that the person listed on the registry must live within 60 miles of Lincoln.
Raybould called the new ordinance a "step in the right direction" that helps address housing concerns the council has heard about for months.
Before casting the only no vote, Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm decried the amended ordinance as more government overreach that doesn't address some of the real concerns those testifying had wanted: a shield to protect them from retaliating landlords.
"I think this doesn’t do the job that people are saying it’s going to do,” she said.
"There are tenants that don’t understand their rights," Lamm said. "This doesn’t cure that.”
Instead, she believes even the amended ordinance was an effort to placate supporters.
One of the renters' organizations that has supported the effort from the beginning is Collective Impact Lincoln.
"This is a positive step to protect renters and preserve the quality of affordable, humane rental housing in our city," Nancy Petitto of Collective Impact Lincoln said in a statement.
"Much work remains to fully address Lincoln's housing adequacy and affordability concerns, and we will continue our comprehensive efforts to achieve those improvements."