Five months after La Marque’s city council said it wanted to crack down on slumlords, a new ordinance aims to strengthen residential rental unit rules.
The ordinance requires owners who rent or lease a residential property to tenants to file written registrations with the city or face fines, officials said.
Each registration would include a registration fee of $100 for the first rental unit and $20 per additional rental unit, according to the city. Any owner who rented or leased a unit but failed to register with the city could be fined up to $500, officials said.
The ordinance was prepared after a comprehensive review of existing ordinances from other cities, Mayor pro tem Keith Bell said. La Marque City Council approved a first reading of the ordinance in May, but the council will still need to take up the ordinance two more times and have a public hearing, officials said.
“Through our fire and police departments, through visiting and being in those structures, we found that many of our citizens live in deplorable conditions,” he said. “We found that when properties are leased, those are less kept and have more structural problems. They tend to harbor and facilitate all sorts of criminal activity.”
In January, Bell proposed shifting some of the city’s policy attention in a longtime blight reduction program toward developing ordinances concerning rental properties, which make up about 70 percent of the housing inventory and landlords.
City staffers had been working on potential ordinances to bring before city council that would more aggressively police landlords with inspections and hold them accountable for things that happen on their property, city officials said.
This new ordinance follows a growing number of at least 20 Texas cities such as Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington that are adopting rental registration ordinances, according to the University of Texas School of Law.
Some rental registration programs can give city code inspectors the authority to inspect the exterior and interior spaces of rental units on a rotating basis without having to go through the time-consuming process of obtaining a court warrant, according to the University of Texas School of Law. The La Marque ordinance does not contain language about code inspectors entering properties.
La Marque’s ordinance will make residential rental units more manageable, and the city will fine those who don’t follow the rules, Bell said.
“In an effort to make the living conditions better and in an effort to expose those hidden pockets of criminal activity, I believe that rental ordinance can be structured in a way where the housing structure is adequate,” he said. “We believe an ordinance can speak to that.”
While other cities have filed similar ordinances, this was Bell’s idea, city spokeswoman Colleen Merritt said.
“The need and want for an ordinance of this type in La Marque was spearheaded by Bell,” she said.
It’s time the city tries to push back on slumlord activity, Mayor Bobby Hocking said.
“This is more about holding the property owners accountable to their leases than regulating tenants,” he said. “In this regard, it makes it safer for the citizens who lease properties in our city.”