By Jordan Achs
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — The Laramie City Council chambers was standing-room only Tuesday as residents, landowners, tenants and students piled in to voice their concerns and give recommendations to City Council about a rental housing resolution on the agenda.
The resolution called for city staff to investigate creating and implementing rental property standards in Laramie, including measures to potentially impose licensing requirements on rental owners and annual municipal inspections of rental properties.
After much discussion, many proposed amendments and even a failed effort to postpone the vote, the Council ultimately voted no on the resolution by a narrow 5-4 margin. Council members Paul Weaver, Jayne Pearce, Erin O’Doherty and Brian Harrington voted yes, while Mayor Joe Shumway, Vice Mayor Pat Gabriel and council members Jessica Stalder, Bryan Shuster and Charles McKinney secured the no vote.
Over 22 different members of the public took the chance to express their concerns or support for the proposed resolution. Most of the comments were from rental property owners, who raised concerns about potential breaches of Fourth Amendment rights, where the funding for inspections would come from and whether the city is creating a solution before understanding if there is even a problem.
“It’s one of the reasons we got into the business, because we wanted to be able to provide better quality rentals,” said one property owner, Brett Glass. “Please do not penalize us for doing this by suddenly hoisting this regulation on us, because the first people who are going to leave the market are not going to be the bad actors, they’re going to be people like us because we’re just so frustrated by the additional burden.”
One member of the public, Derek Colling, said he works with investors and has noticed some already drop their interest in Laramie now that the Council even considered the resolution. Resident Ellie Riske said she, too, was going to buy a rental property but decided to wait to see what happened with the Council’s vote.
Members of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming also spoke about the testimonies they have heard from students detailing harsh conditions tenants sometimes have had to endure, and how confusing leases can be for young adults first leaving their parents’ houses.
“It actually came up recently that some of the same problems that I saw 10 years ago when I was renting are still happening with the same landlord today,” said Amanda Pittman, former tenant and now homeowner. “I am really concerned about renters’ rights, and I generally am in favor of a resolution to look into the problem.”
Many of the public who commented — as well as Council members — also voiced their desire for community input. Weaver said he’d like to create a task force or ad hoc committee to gather information from stakeholders, including landlords and tenants, about the issue and possible solutions to benefit both parties.
“Despite the controversy surrounding the idea of safety and health standards for rentals, one thing is clear, the community effort to provide the best possible for affordable renters is important,” Weaver said. “We’ve heard from people that don’t think we should ever have it, we’ve talked to other people that said we should’ve done this 20 years ago. It’s a difference in opinion, I suppose.”
Some council members, including Gabriel, said they felt the state and federal landlord-tenant protections and provisions are already enough.
The council also voted to reject adding rental housing standards to their goals for 2019 in a 5-4 vote, with Harrington, O’Doherty, Weaver and Pearce voting yes.