The City of Grand Forks has had a Rental Inspection Program for over 40 years. The program has evolved and improved over the decades as needs arose. The Rental Inspection Program inspects every rental unit in the City approximately every 5 years or with complaints/concerns as they are reported. A rental unit is defined as any dwelling unit containing kitchen, bathroom and sleeping facilities and having any portion of the housing unit occupied by someone other than the owner of the property or their family. A rental unit can be in a single family home or a multiple family building.
To better deal with problematic rental properties in single family neighborhoods, a rental licensing requirement was established for one and two family rental units in 2006. The City has created the licensing program in response to concerns expressed by the public. Rental licensing allows for a mechanism to communicate with landlords, managers and tenants. The code outlining this requirement is in section 21-0603. It reads as follows: License Required: It is unlawful for any person, as the owner, manager or other person having control of any rental unit, to lease, rent, offer for rent or lease, or permit to be leased, rented or offered for rent or lease, any rental unit within the city unless the rental unit has been licensed under this article.
How is a rental unit identified?
Multiple family units (3 plex or greater) are sorted by computer.
One and Two family dwellings are more difficult to identify. The computer can sort out which properties are/may be rentals by comparing owner’s mailing address with property address. This is a good first step but not always accurate or timely.
What is required of a rental unit?
A Certificate of Occupancy is required when a property is going to be occupied by anyone other than the owner or their family members. With extended families this can include many variations of what is meant by “family members”. One does not have to collect rent to make it necessary for a Certificate of Occupancy to be required. A housing unit must have appropriate bathroom facilities, kitchen facilities and a heating system. The heating system must maintain 68 degrees three feet above the floor in each occupied room and can not have mixed air with another housing unit.
How many individuals can occupy a rental unit?
Four or less individuals that are unrelated can occupy each housing unit. There is no limit to the number family members who can live in a housing unit.
What are the off-street parking requirements?
All housing units regardless if they are owner occupied or rented, are required to have off-street parking. The minimum requirement is two parking spaces and then is increased with the number of bedrooms in the housing unit.
Are the basic requirements of a rental unit different than that of an owner occupied single family home?
Rental units are held to different standards, because someone occupies them other than the property owner or their family. They must meet certain minimum requirements before a Certificate of Occupancy will be issued. The code requirements that must be adhered to are those that the home or building was built under, not current requirements. Some of the basics of these requirements are: proper egress, smoke detectors, electrical wiring, handrails and guardrails, heating equipment and hot water heating equipment to be correctly installed.
Reference Diagrams (not all requirements listed):
- Smoke Detector Layout
- Smoke Detector Elevation
- Emergency Escape
- Window Well Egress
- Ceiling Height Requirements
What is the City’s responsibility regarding rental units?
The City of Grand Forks is very proactive in the area of rental inspection compliance and insists that all rental units maintain a Certificate of Occupancy. We have a mandatory system that is enforced to the highest level possible including citing property owners in municipal court for non-compliance or requiring the unit be left vacant. The City has no authority over the aesthetics of the property. If the property has junk or a junk vehicle the City will make sure that issue is resolved before a Certificate of Occupancy is granted. Many times these issues on renter occupied properties are easier to resolve than on owner occupied properties. The landlord will make the tenant get rid of the non-compliance item because they know they are the ones responsible for their own property.
The Process of Rental Inspections
The City becomes aware of a property being a rental.
Either the property owner requests a Certificate of Occupancy or property records reveal that it may be rented. A property can be found to be a rental if the property and mailing address don’t match or something else indicates the property is being rented.
A letter of inspection request is sent.
The City sends a letter to the property owner requesting additional information and informing the property owner of the rental Certificate of Occupancy requirements. The City continues to pursue the issue until a resolution is established. If the city has difficulty reaching the property owner we can check the water billing records and we can stop by the rental and speak to the renter. A rental unit can be inspected with permission from the owner with tenant notification or by the renter’s permission without owner notification.
Inspection and compliance requests are made.
Arrangements are made to inspect the housing unit, if the property is found to be a rental. The housing unit will be inspected and a report of the non-complaint items will be put together with a timeline for their completion. The majority of the items are given thirty days to be brought into compliance and a re-inspection setup. Some of the items will be allowed additional time if weather or other circumstances stand in the way of their completion. The property will be re-inspected to ensure all the items are in acceptable compliance with the City’s regulations.
If it is thought more than four unrelated individuals are renting a unit.
If it is suspected that more than four unrelated individuals are renting a living unit, a letter will be sent to the property owner that states this problem and asks for explanation or a solution. We will request that a copy of the lease, with the individuals that are renting the unit listed on it, be produced for the City’s information. If satisfaction is not obtained by this process, the City will attempt a citation through municipal court. This issue is a very difficult one to prove because it is based on hearsay and not a physical item such as a missing handrail. Compliance on this issue is usually obtained best with cooperation from the property owner.
Compliance will be obtained or legal action will be taken.
The City will and has on many occasions brought a citation against a property owner that will not cooperate with the rental inspection program. The municipal court judge usually orders the property owner to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy by allowing the inspection and doing what is required to bring the property into compliance.
How are single-family units determined to be duplexes?
If it has two housing units in it, then it is considered a duplex. This is determined by assessing records, number of meters a home has, investigation request by complaint or by voluntary owner request for Certificate of Occupancy. If the property owner lives in one of the units and the other is rented it can be difficult to know except with assessing information.
How is the city notified of single-family home conversions to duplexes?
The City is only notified if the property owner notifies us or a complaint is brought up. The City routinely goes through the records to match or find that the mailing and property address do not match. That can be a sign that it is a rental. Then the Inspection Department will notify the owner of what was found and ask for an inspection if it is found to be a rental.
How are the duplex regulations enforced when a conversion is made?
The Inspection Department will enforce all the regulations required for each housing unit. This means setting deadlines and following through on those deadlines. If the work is not done and deadlines are not met, the property owner is cited in Municipal Court. The judge then makes a ruling to have the items of non-compliance fixed or the unit vacated until everything meets the City’s regulations.
How are unrelated person regulation enforced?
If it is suspected that more than four unrelated individuals are renting a living unit, a letter will be sent to the property owner that states this problem and asks for explanation or a solution. We will request that a copy of the lease, with the individuals that are renting the unit listed on it, be produced for the City’s information. If this process does not obtain satisfaction, the City will attempt a citation through municipal court. This issue is a very difficult one to prove because it is based on hearsay and not a physical item such as a missing handrail. Compliance on this issue is usually obtained best with cooperation from the property owner.