By Chris Agee
Mineral Wells City Council members voted Monday to open the application process for a seven-member minimum housing code committee. Rick Bennett was the only councilman present to oppose the measure after voicing some concerns about the committee's selection and implementation.
The issue was first discussed at a presentation by City Manager Lance Howerton to a group of local property owners last week at the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce.
He presented a similar overview of the idea Monday evening and the council meeting was open to public comment.
Howerton explained the formation of a minimum housing code ordinance in Mineral Wells was still in the proposal stage and all details he presented were merely suggestions.
He recommended adopting an amended version of the 2006 International Property Maintenance Code to govern declining housing, particularly rental properties, within the community.
The code was "written for applications worldwide," Howerton explained, and the city has proposed "amendments that would speak to our particular circumstance here in Mineral Wells."
He explained the reason behind a focus on rental property is an aversion to forcing homeowners out of their residences should they be unable to make needed improvements.
"We don't want to dislocate anyone," Howerton said.
During a slideshow presentation, he shared his recommendation for one- and two-family residential rental properties to obtain a certification of occupancy at the time of a utilities service change or within 12 months of the code's adoption.
Within 48 hours a code compliance inspection would be conducted and the owner would be given 30 days to make any necessary repairs with a possible 30-day extension, the city manager said.
Unless dangerous or unhealthy conditions are found, a prospective tenant would be able to move in immediately and the certificate of occupancy would last two years, Howerton added.
Multifamily rental properties, along with hotels and motels, would be required to obtain a similar permit which would be valid for three years or until a change in ownership. His proposal would give owners 180 days to apply for the permit and 60 days, with a possible 30-day extension, to make any required repairs.
Following Councilman Rick Bennett's recommendation of creating a self-governing board of property owners to oversee any possible code enforcement, several local residents shared their opinions.
Darlene Kanady suggested enforcing the code on both rental and owner-occupied properties with a possible exemption for low-income residents. She also voiced concerns about the extra cost associated with hiring city staff to enforce the code.
James Adams asked about individuals who purchase a substandard home with the intention of bringing it up to code, but would be unable to do so within the 30-day time frame.
Howerton addressed the concern, explaining the city will work with property owners in that situation as long as the property's exterior is in presentable condition.
Other comments focused on the intrusion of government into business agreements between property owners and renters.
"I have a problem with government dictating what I can and can't do with my own property," said Mike Eubank.
Bennett made a motion to table the issue in order to better understand the code's implications and to allow council members to discuss the proposal with their constituents. He also lamented the perceived need for government to intervene.
"I believe in self-governing," he said. "I'm sick of government taking over everything we do."
Bennett proposed asking renters whether they would rather their landlord or authorities govern the condition of their property, suggesting the vast majority would prefer the personal interaction with a local property owner.
"I believe we have men and women of honor in our community that will stand up and do the right thing," he said.
Councilman Thomas Lively voiced his support of enforcing the code on both rental and owner-occupied properties.
"If we're going to strictly focus on rental properties, we're only looking at improving 50 percent of our city," he said.
Council member John Upham ultimately proposed accepting applications for a the seven-member committee.
He initially suggested five of those members be rental property owners but did not include that caveat in his motion.
The motion passed 4-1 with Bennett voting “no.”