Eds Note: Dr. Rent apparently just heard of another agenda item for the city council meeting tonight and wanted to express his thoughts on the issue. This is as good a time as any to remind people that each writer here is speaking for him/herself. If you have an opinion on this or any issue presented here, you can use the comment box, or drop me a line if you to start a new item for discussion.
By Dr. Rent:
My first post was to address the importance of the Stewart/University Avenue decision coming up at tonight’s Wausau city council meeting. That was until I was informed by a long-standing apartment association member of something that is up for a vote which has received no public input, probably because it has not shown up on any agenda, yet it will involve over 1/3 of those people living in Wausau. (Over 1/2 have of those living in the downtown area, thats alot of voters)The City of Wausau will consider making it a requirement that ALL rental properties (including existing rental properties) have hard-wired, inter-connected smoke detectors.
As it exists, all new residential construction does have to have hard-wired smoke detectors, whether they be single family, duplex, or multifamily. All rental units, regardless of age, have to have smoke detectors on each level. State law indicates that it is the landlords responsibility to maintain the smoke detectors and in every standardized lease I have reviewed, it is a breach of the lease for tenants to render the smoke detectors inoperable (i.e. remove the battery).
The fire department is proposing this change indicating that tenants would be less likely to render the detectors inoperable. Although that is true, we have a couple of buildings with hard-wired detectors and we find them unplugged or completely missing. To be truthful, not as often as a percentage as batteries gone, but it happens more often than we would like.
The biggest issue that I have is that the city has decided to proceed without getting any input from any stakeholder other than the fire department.
The cost of retro-fitting older buildings with hard-wired, interconnected smoke detector could easily be over $1,000 per unit. That is not a cost that will become the burden of landlords. As real estate is an investment, when the operating costs of a landlord increase, they just increase rents to recoup this cost. So, who will pay for this, THE TENANTS WILL. That is just a fact of life. And the units that will be the most expensive to retro-fit will be the up & down duplexes that tend to be the more “affordable” units in town. There is a severe lack of low cost rental units for those with minimum wage jobs, and this will make these units even less affordable, with no real increase in the safety of these units. Also, retro-fitting some of these older properties will also very likely create some lead-based paint issues.
Also, changing batteries is important to many landlords. We change out all of the batteries in our detectors twice each year. This changing of the batteries serves TWO important purposes. 1) Complying with fire codes and keeping our tenants safe. 2) It gives us a chance to see our properties from the inside! To determine what care this tenant has taken of the unit, to ensure that the unit is still a safe and habitable place to live.
I believe that a law should be passed that prevents people from being discriminated against based on choice of housing. I believe that people who live in rental properties should have equal protection under the law as people who live in condominiums, and people who own their own home. No one should be treated differently because of how they choose to live.
Therefore, if apartments and rentals have to be retrofitted, so should single family, owner-occupied homes.
This item was not clear in the published meeting minutes. The city council agenda has this as “Joint Ordinance repealing and recreating Title 17 – Fire Prevention.”
The Public Safety published meeting notes described this as “Discussion and possible action regarding the revision of the City Fire Prevention Ordinance including but not limited to the addition of Occupancy Permits linked to established fire prevention.”
It is obvious that the City was trying to back door this, if the agenda stated this smoke detector revision, this would have been meet with strong opposition in committee! Although I was not a big fan of Mayor Linda Lawrence, I thought her greatest accomplishment was bringing alot of different parties to the table to discuss issues that impact them all, she opened the door for cooperation between city planners, home owners, landlords, tenants, the fire dept, the police dept, etc. I would hate to think that openness is now gone and the City doesn’t care about the impact they have when passing laws without knowing how ALL parties will be impacted.
My recommendation would be that the City refer this back to the committee, and the committee then be required to also get input from other stake holders. We know the Fire Dept’s thought on things. Now, talk to landlords about how this will effect them. Talk to tenants about how this will effect them. Talk to electrictions to get an idea of just what kind of costs we are talking about it.
If you are a renter living in Wausau and you have battery operated smoke detectors, this will effect you. If this passes, expect the landlord to have to do major remodeling to retro-fit your unit, and expect a healthy rent increase to cover its cost! Contact the City!