La Marque Mayor pro tem Keith Bell is right in wanting to chase slumlords out of his city, or at least make it very uncomfortable for them to operate there.
What Bell proposed earlier this month at a city council meeting won’t be easy and could be legally tricky if executed badly. But it’s a worthwhile pursuit of compelling public interest and one of the more courageous proposals to come out of local municipalities in a while.
Slumlord is a derogatory term for a landlord who attempts to wring profits from rental properties by ignoring maintenance and repairs, usually in deteriorating neighborhoods, but is always sure to demand rent be paid on time. It’s possible to run into slumlords around the county. Some do live here. But many hide behind corporate names or live far, far away. Whoever they are and wherever they live, they’re a scourge plaguing cities big and small.
If successful, a crackdown on slumlords promises to improve living conditions for everyone in La Marque.
Not all poor people are criminals, of course, but criminals are attracted to impoverished areas where landlords are inattentive — you might say negligent.
Bell proposes tougher rental ordinances meant to discourage criminals from moving into neighborhoods — and would possibly encourage them to move out — while improving conditions for low-income renters who don’t always have the wherewithal to make repairs or power to compel landlords to maintain properties.
“I think we need to look hard at some sort of renter’s ordinance that we might be able to gather information about the property owners and communicate to them the needs we have in this city to make sure that those tenants they’re leasing to are tenants that will enhance our city and not detract from our city,” Bell said at the city council meeting.
Bell proposes creating ordinances that would hold landlords more accountable for selecting tenants who are “contributors to the city,” but also ensure landlords are keeping properties in respectable condition and not allowing them to become dilapidated, he said.
“We need to start to use our enforcement tools and power of ordinance to decide who we want to be members of our city, not with respect to race, color, creed, gender, age or sexual preference or religious affiliation,” Bell said.
Everyone likes to blame public housing for attracting an element they don’t want in their neighborhoods. But most public housing has strict lease requirements and renters must pass criminal background checks. Meanwhile, city officials have no trouble tracking down managers of public housing.
A bigger problem is absentee slumlords who might not even know who’s living in their properties, while city officials might not know who owns the properties.
Dallas in the past few years has tried to fight back against slumlords. The city created ordinances requiring landlords to repair appliances, provide better lighting, allow city code inspections and perform pest control, according to reports.
Under new Dallas codes, landlords will have to register their rental homes with the city for $21 a year. And they can’t shield themselves behind company names, either. Any limited liability corporations and other companies that own rental homes must list officers on registration forms, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Requiring code inspections of single-family rental homes was a first for Dallas.
Gathering better contact information for owners of substandard properties is important. But naming and shaming has never worked in the slumlord industry.
Bell is advocating tougher code inspections because he knows that criminals don’t want to live in places under constant scrutiny. They prefer places that fly under the radar, like so many deteriorating rental properties have in cities throughout the county.
La Marque officials will have to tread carefully to avoid legal problems and to avoid violating laws meant to prevent discrimination.
But if done legally and fairly, La Marque’s shaping of new rental rules could help improve the living conditions of law-abiding, low-income residents while ridding the community of nuisances who make everyone’s lives miserable.
• Laura Elder