A new ordinance amendment recently passed by the Mobile City Council would make it easier for the city to track landlords, protect renters and grow the city. That’s why Mayor Sandy Stimpson is eager to talk about it.
The amendment requires all landlords, regardless of the number of properties they own, to apply for a city business license. The change will make it easier for city officials to communicate with property owners and make sure they keep everything up to code, at a time when Stimpson’s office is looking to expand affordable housing and grow the city from within.
“One of the impediments to growing the city inside the city limits, you know, part of it has to do with the existence of blight,” he said. “So, when you have blighted properties on the streets it’s hard to entice people to move on that street or whatever.”
At issue during those early days battling blight, Stimpson said, was the city’s inability to properly communicate with property owners. That’s because, until this ordinance was amended, landlords with fewer than 10 properties were not required to purchase a business license. This allowed owners to hide behind corporation names or LLCs and the city had no way to contact them.
“So, once we started the blight program, we realized there were a lot of houses we would go up to and we would try to determine who the owner was and you couldn’t find out who the owner was because it could be under the name of an LLC and it wouldn’t reveal to you who owned it,” he said. “So, from an enforcement standpoint, you couldn’t enforce or require someone to bring things up to code and so, it was very important to figure out what is the ownership.”
Not being able to identify or communicate with a property owner led to some real headaches for Stimpson’s office, as roughly 50 percent of all the residential property in the city is rented. To rectify the problem, Stimpson and members of the administration sought to correct the way the city handles business licenses.
The ordinance amendment now requires all rental property owners to apply for a business license. This change will help the city with code enforcement of slumlords, Stimpson said.
“So, one of the enforcement methods is if you have a business license we can pull that business license,” he said. “Also, from an enforcement standpoint, it’s also about working with the property owner to make sure that they bring the property into compliance.”
The same rules for pulling a license would apply, Stimpson said. The city would bring evidence before the City Council and essentially, try the case in front of the body. As in a court of law, an owner would be given an opportunity to defend themself. The council would ultimately have the final say.
The change gives enforcement officials another tool to work with, Stimpson said.
“We have slumlords in the city of Mobile. Every city does and if you don’t have a mechanism in place to make them bring things up to standard, they may not,” he said. “The whole idea is we’re trying to raise the quality of the appearance of our neighborhoods so the property values in those neighborhoods will go up for the homeowners.”
A landlord would now need a business license for every location owned, Senior Director of Neighborhood Development Jamey Roberts said. There is also only one application per owner, as long as the owner uses the same name, he said.
“Part of the new license application is they have to list who their management company is or have contact information so municipal enforcement has a direct contact so they can proactively engage in getting it taken care of,” he said.
Owners who do not have a business license have until July to purchase one, city attorney Ricardo Woods said. Renewals will occur in January like normal, he said.
For those landlords who own less than 10 properties, the license will cost $25 per unit, Roberts said. For those with more than 10 units, the license will cost a percentage of the business’s receipts. The ordinance applies also to Section 8 owners. The Mobile Housing Authority Board of Commissioners is exempt from the amendment, but it must fill out an affidavit, which acts in the same way, Roberts said.
The goals of the amendment are twofold, Stimpson said.
“It’s not just to eradicate blight,” he said. “It’s also to facilitate in growing the city in areas that have been allowed to be run down and it’s trying to raise the appearance of those properties, those neighborhoods, those streets, up to a level above where they are.”
The amended ordinance coincides with other initiatives introduced by Stimpson, including a challenge to build or renovate 1,000 affordable homes by 2026. In pursuit of that goal, the city recently purchased the Mae Eanes Middle School property from the school board.
The city’s plan is to fill the property with 94 affordable housing units. Former Mobile County School Board member Robert Battles told Lagniappe he had arranged for the property to be sold to a third party to be used for veteran housing.
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