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Paynesville Press - December 4, 2002

New rental ordinance takes effect

Stearns County has a new rental housing ordinance that cracks down on unsafe rental properties.

Stearns County adopted the new ordinance in November. It puts in place minimum housing standards, requiring all rental units to meet basic safe and health criteria.

It is designed to be complaint driven and is only to be enforced when the county receives a complaint. It is not part of the licensing procedure. If a complaint is legitimate, the property owner has a set amount of time to fix the problem. If they don't, they face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of $1,000 per day and 90 days in jail.

The county decided to adopt such an ordinance after some community officials came before the county board earlier this year with concerns about some unsafe rental homes in the county. They cited numerous problems such as insect infestation, plumbing problems, dangerous heating, and windows that were nailed shut.

Officials were concerned that neither the county nor the townships had any authority to take action against the owners and require them to fix these rental properties. The ordinance the county adopted not only protects the renter from unsafe and unhealthy homes; it also protects the landlords by placing part of the responsibility on the renter. It requires tenants to do basic clean-up and maintenance.

Additional staff will not be needed to enforce this ordinance because the county already responds to a good number of housing complaints, an average of one per day. This ordinance does not require staff to do any more investigating, but gives them the authority to resolve problems.

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