Strained by complaints, Millcreek moves to license landlords of one- and two-bedroom rentals

(Photo courtesy of the city of Millcreek) A view of Millcreek's commercial center. City officials will require landlords of one- and two-bedroom rentals to get a business license as of Jan. 1, 2019, in hopes of reducing the volume of complaints from residents over unkempt properties.

Some landlords in Millcreek are rushing to complete home repairs as a new city deadline looms for licensing all one- and two-bedroom rentals.

In a response to complaints from residents over unkempt rentals and their negative effects on neighborhoods, the newly incorporated city south of Salt Lake City will require owners to obtain a business license as of January 1, at a yearly fee of $60 per dwelling.

And under a new city code enforcement system paid for by those fees and taking effect in 2019, the estimated 2,200 rental properties in Millcreek will also be subject to inspections and could be shut down if they don’t meet city requirements, Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said.

In notices to residents, officials have described Millcreek’s problems with rentals as “a major strain” on the newly formed city’s resources. The mayor noted that City Hall gets a disproportionate number of complaints over issues such as illegal parking, noise, overgrown weeds and junk in front yards in connection with rentals as opposed to owner-occupied homes.

“We’re trying to spread the true cost of this enforcement to the class of property owners that is more of the problem,” Silvestrini said. “This gives us a tool against a landlord who is just not cooperating and who doesn’t require their tenants to follow the rules.”

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Millcreek City Council, as seen on Monday, July 17, 2017. The council voted in September to begin licensing landlords of one- and two-bedroom rentals in the east bench community effective Jan. 1, 2019, following complaints from residents over unkempt dwellings.

Most of the city’s landlords, the mayor said, take care of their properties. The new enforcement system, he and others said, is geared more toward uncooperative or lackadaisical landlords who may temporarily fix problems, only to let them recur.

“We ultimately can revoke their business license and thereby effectively stop them from renting the property — unless they want to violate our ordinance,” Silvestrini said.

But for some landlords and property managers in Millcreek, the city’s public notices about the new licensing have been spotty and, in some cases, complying has created something of a year-end scramble.

“This is affecting our business,” said Lorie Sweeney, a leasing manager in Millcreek who oversees nearly 35 rental properties on behalf of their owners. “We just found out about it, via the news. We weren’t notified in any way by the city.”

Sweeney said one rental owner recently reported the nearest Home Depot in Millcreek had no smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in stock, as landlords were buying them to comply with new rules that they be installed in every bedroom in rental units.

Tina Grant, who rents out a duplex in Millcreek, said the new ordinance only required “all the basic stuff any landlord would do” such as grounded electrical plugs, protective railings and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. But the city’s public notice process, Grant said, appears to have left some landlords out of the loop.

“I still haven’t gotten a notice,” she said.

Kurt Hansen, Millcreek’s director of city services, said his department sought to reach Millcreek’s landlords by mailing out notices in cases where a property’s address differed from the address where the Salt Lake County assessor mails its tax bills.

Meanwhile, as Jan. 1 approaches, Hansen said the city’s business license administrator “was buried” in new applications. Due to the volume of new inspections required and with only two city building inspectors on staff, he said Millcreek is now letting landlords instead sign an affidavit ensuring their property meets health and safety standards to get their license.

“We’ve put them on the honor system,” Hansen said, adding that the city hoped to have its backlog of inspections completed within six months or so.

Landlords in the east bench community who rent apartments with three bedrooms or more were already being licensed by Salt Lake County, before Millcreek incorporated as a city in late 2017.

At least 15 Wasatch Front cities require some kind of licensing of landlords and charge fees per dwelling, including Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Ogden. Fees range from $50 per unit up to more than $340, but cities commonly offer substantial discounts in exchange for participation in what’s known as the “Good Landlord” program, which involves training on best practices.

Millcreek City Council approved the new licensing system in September, saying the approach “would help resolve the detrimental impacts of rental homes.” Council members initially approved the fee at $150 per dwelling annually, only to lower it to $60 in part over concerns the added costs would be passed on to tenants.

“It’s not a great idea for housing affordability, but we have to address the problem in a fair way,” Silvestrini said of the licensing, adding that Millcreek’s fee was lower than those charged in surrounding cities.