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WL Considers Changing Rental Inspections In Part Due To Rare 'Overoccupancy'

Markus Spiering

Though West Lafayette leaders are thinking of changing the rules for how often rental units are inspected and how much landlords are charged for those properties, the man in charge of the process says a reason outlined in the ordinance isn’t much of a concern.

A revised ordinance up for consideration by the City Council cites what it calls “widespread problems with overoccupancy of rental housing” as a reason to rewrite the law.

But Dale Dixon, who directs the city’s Rental Housing Inspection Program, says in the nine years he’s been on the job, there have only been a handful of times where too many people have been living in an undersized space.

“In the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen about three or four different instances where we’ve had to enforce that," Dixon says.

Dixon says he thinks the ordinance should be rewritten to de-emphasize the overoccupancy issue.

Mayor John Dennis says he sometimes hears concerns about the living conditions of immigrants to the community, but says the rules are not a result of those complaints.

“You always get the odd duck that will say ‘Well these people behave this way or these people bring their families over when they come from country X’ or something to that effect," Dennis says.  "And we never found that to be something we could substantiate, even if it is a code or other violation that we’re empowered to inspect.”


The new language would also update rules that some landlords had begun to criticize as inequitable, in part by assessing a per-bedroom fee instead of a per-building fee on multi-unit structures.

A $48 per bedroom fee – payable every four years -- will affect the more than 3,000 new living spaces currently planned for high-rises going up near State Street, as well as all other multi-unit buildings in the city.

But rented single family homes will pay a flat $225 charge every two years, as well as a $500 levy to turn a single-family home into a rental.

The costs are designed to raise money to pay for personnel to inspect the more than 22,000 rental units the city expects to have when the high-rises are complete in the next couple years.

The city currently has one full-time and one part-time inspector, and fire chief Tim Heath says he’d like to double that number. But even if the city adds more people, Heath says it could still use more manpower.

“Unfortunately I would say no, I would love to inspect them every year. But that’s a lot of manpower and that’s an expensive project," Heath says. "But I would love to be in those apartments yearly to make sure that the batteries are in those smoke detectors and they’re working.”

A first reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Monday evening's city council meeting.