Planning commission takes a look at Cottonwood rental code

About 48 percent of housing properties within the city of Cottonwood are rentals.

That's a high rate compared to other cities in the state and it's on par with levels in Flagstaff and Tempe, both college towns, according to Cottonwood Community Development Director Jerry Owen.

"We have a high demand for rental apartments," Owen said. "It's a recipe for concern there. There are people in the community that think a lot of renters don't have choices Š [when that happens] problems can occur."

Members of the Planning & Zoning Commission took up the issue at their Monday night meeting. A discussion was held regarding a draft of a Cottonwood rental housing code.

A code would allow city officials to inspect the interior of rental properties on some sort of regular basis. Owen said the focus would most likely be on making sure there is running water, a good food preparation surface, no obvious holes or leaks and working toilets.

"Which, unfortunately a lot of housing units don't necessarily have," Owen said.

The idea of a Cottonwood rental code was first discussed in 2002 when the city adopted a housing strategy. Owen said that report documented a need that many had seen in the community. One of the recommendations from the committee that generated the strategy was for staff to develop a rental code.

The draft code establishes rental housing standards and enforcement. Owen said now he and the city staff are looking for input from the commission and the public on ways to administer the future ordinance.

At the commission's Monday meeting, members of the public did have something to say. Max Castillo, who belongs to the Main and Mingus Neighborhood Watch Group, said his neighborhood has a much higher percentage of rentals compared to the city's average. Many of the properties are substandard and renters are being taken advantage of, he said.

"People that rent these houses don't have a real way of complaining," Castillo said, noting that many may be undocumented workers.

Cottonwood resident Jack Pierce said he is a property owner and rents out. Many times it's the renters who trash the properties, he said.

"We have to look at the owner's aspect too," he told the commission. "There is another side to the story."

Owen said the goal should be to have an ordinance that's supported by both landlords and renters.

"I would hope that we end up with a balanced code," he said.

Cindy Espolt likes the direction the city is taking. She is an associate broker with Coldwell Banker-Mabery Real Estate in the property management division. As property managers, Espolt and her associates work with property owners.

The owners sign a contract with Coldwell Banker-Mabery Real Estate. Espolt's office then takes care of the property. They screen renters, take care of maintenance issues and negotiate leases. About five years ago the office handled about 85 properties, now they manage 350.

"There are a lot of rentals out there," Espolt said.

There are currently legal resources available to renters and property owners, but Espolt said many people aren't aware of the laws in place.

The Arizona landlord-tenant act is good at protecting both parties, Espolt said.

Also, Yavapai County and the city of Cottonwood require property owners to register rental property. But unless there is an obvious problem on the outside of a structure, city code enforcers can't go inside a rental building.

"Right now it is a complaint driven situation," she said.

Espolt and her associates do interior inspections on their properties every six months. They also tend to maintenance complaints immediately.

Other private property owners aren't so attentive.

"There are so many landlords that are out there that are slumlords," Espolt said. "We get the stories."

Owen said commission members would discuss the rental code at their next meeting on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. in the city's council chambers building. He hopes that interested members of the public come to provide input.

"To help us prepare a good, solid ordinance and give us feedback on what we've got," he said.

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