Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Inspection Program Can Improve Rental Quality, by Danielle Cook & Samantha Loomis

            Many students at UW-La Crosse choose to move off campus as upperclassmen. The streets around campus are largely recognized as student housing areas, with residents occupying duplexes, triplexes, single-family homes and various scales of apartment complexes.

            In order to ensure physical as well as economical safety for the landlord and the tenants involved, La Crosse has rental inspecting guidelines. A new rental inspection program began April 21, requiring landlords to register every year, as well as other new requirements. Among them is a 67 degree Fahrenheit base temperature requirement during the winter, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and three to five residents allowed per unit, depending on zoning.

            This change in rental guidelines has resulted from a continuing trend of poor property appearance.

            “If you do your research, you can find a decent place to live, but there are some pretty legitimate complaints. Some are tenant issues, and some are landlord issues,” said Dave Reinhart, La Crosse’s chief inspector since 2008.

            Reinhart also explained that single-family dwellings cause the most citations during inspection; most of them were converted by landlords without permits.

            One example of a single-family home with “life-safety issues” is UW-L sophomore Brady Gross’ single-family home on the west side of campus that he shares with four other male roommates. He has been renting his room for about nine months, paying around $210 each month. He and his housemates pay for water on their own and pay for heating to Xcel Energy. Gross notes that his decision to live in that home was very “last-minute,” during the rush for off-campus housing that students encounter on an annual basis at UW-L.

            “Heating is our main problem,” he explained. “Our insulation isn’t great, and drafts come through the door all the time. In the winter, we try to seal the house up, so we don’t lose as much heat, but we keep the temperature down too. It’s easier to just put on more layers than pay for an expensive heating bill.”

            This winter was one of the coldest in history, causing it in turn to be the worst winter for pipes freezing. A house with insufficient insulation will cause the heating bill to increase, especially when a certain temperature is required to prevent pipes from freezing.

             Reinhart says his department receives 5 to12 complaints a week, usually a variety, including heating and freezing pipes, and there could or should be more complaints. “Tenants are afraid of being evicted; some call after leaving with complaint but can’t be helped when they don’t have keys.”

            Gross and his roommates have encountered other problems with their home. A plumbing problem at the beginning of fall semester resulted in a backed-up toilet and sewage filled their basement. Their landlord sent in a professional to handle the situation. Other instances, such as faulty wiring and holes in the walls, have not been reported to their landlord.

            “Our foundation is pretty bad, too,” said one of Gross’ roommates, “You can see cracks in the brickwork, and that worries us a bit as to the stability of the house.” If Gross wants this problem evaluated, the city recommends he goes to his landlord to explain the situation first. After this, an inspector can come to the property and write an order to correct, or a citation. Then, it is the landlord's responsibility to fix the problem.

            One frightening circumstance came to Gross and his roommates in the form of an unwelcome bat in the house. The wind had blown their door in one night, and a bat flew into the house. Gross and his roommates were unable to catch it, and the bat ended up biting one of the renters during the night. He had to get a rabies shot to prevent the possible consequences of infection. The roommate informed the landlord of the problem.