Months after La Marque’s city council first said it wanted to crack down on slumlords, it passed an ordinance to strengthen residential rental unit rules by keeping closer tabs on property owners.
On June 11, the city council unanimously passed a rental ordinance requiring owners who rent out or lease a residential property to tenants to file written registrations with the city or face fines.
Each registration would include a fee of $100 for the first rental unit and $20 for each additional rental unit, city officials said. Any property 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.
The ordinance will force more expenses on landlords, but it’s a necessary step for safety, Bell said.
“You have the potential to have a home that you could raise your children in that would be safe,” he said. “You would be leasing a home that perhaps would be safer than what you are probably leasing now.”
Renters tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to be victims of crime, Bell has said.
Dilapidated and structurally unsound properties could become a breeding ground for drug activity and crime, officials have said.
In January, Bell proposed shifting some of the city’s policy attention in a longtime blight reduction program toward developing ordinances regarding rental properties.
On January 8, when the ordinance was first discussed, council members said 70 percent of La Marque residents live in rental housing.
The city’s staff had been working on potential ordinances to bring before city council that would more aggressively police landlords with inspections and hold them accountable for what was happening on their properties, city officials said.
La Marque joins at least 20 Texas cities, including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington, in adopting rental registration ordinances, according to the University of Texas School of Law.
Some residents worry the ordinance could lead to overregulation, however.
Micromanaging won’t solve rental and slumlord problems, former La Marque Mayor Geraldine Sam said at the June 11 meeting.
“We have so many ordinances on the book, and I just think that they can’t be enforced,” she said. “We welcome people into our city, we don’t want to run them away.”
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.
Pushing back against slumlord activity is long overdue, Councilman Robert Michetich said.
“This affects us all, whether we are property owners or neighbors,” Michetech said at the meeting. “The need is there to turn this tide.”