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Minutes of the work session of October 8, 2001 at 7:00 P.M. held in the Council Chambers.

 

MEMBERS PRESENT:

Mayor Ronald Drake and Council Members                 Marie Lopez Rogers

Peggy Jones

                                                                                    Stephanie Karlin

                                                                                    Raymond Shuey

                                                                                    Betty Lynch

                                                                                    Albert Carroll, Jr.

 

ALSO PRESENT

Scott Schrader, City Manager

Andrew McGuire, City Attorney

 

2)`        PRELIMINARY DISCUSSION – ALARM ORDINANCE CONCEPT

Discussion with Council regarding the possible establishment of a false alarm ordinance. 

 

Mr. Schrader explained that the Police Department has been asking for some time that the City consider adopting a false alarm ordinance, as indicated in the memorandum from the Police Department.  He stated there have been a large number of false alarms within the City and from the Police Department’s perspective there is a concern that those alarms are tying up manpower to respond to those calls.  He stated that in some instances repeat calls to those alarms generate a sense of complacency, which is not good either. 

 

Mr. Schrader stated that he wanted to get feedback from the Council regarding a proposed draft ordinance and whether they wanted staff to continue to pursue it.  He stated that in the memorandum provided to Council there are some potential negatives that might be met with some adverse public reaction depending upon how the ordinance is implemented with regards to citizens being charged if their alarm system is not working properly.  He stated staff was looking to see if the Council wanted them to proceed in that direction and if so if there is anything specific that they would like to see included in a potential final version of a draft ordinance. 

 

Chief MacKinnon, Avondale Police, stated that the City Manager covered the information and reiterated that there have been a significant number of false alarms being dealt with, which are in excess of 2000 and 5% of their calls for service.  He indicated that the additional calls are not needed because they draw the officers from other services they could be providing.  He noted that this is a fairly standard approach in trying to regulate the false alarms and that they are not trying to make money for the City but are trying to educate the citizens and eliminate the constant distractions from what they could do elsewhere in the City.  He asked the Council to give them guidance if that is the direction they wanted to go and explained that the draft ordinance was a combination of examples from other cities.

 

Mr. McGuire stated that what was before the Council is the first step of alarm ordinances and it is the enforcement against the alarm owner or property owner and not against the alarm company.  He noted that unfortunately when it starts with this first step, the citizens could become angry because they are the ones responsible for their alarm company’s mistakes and would want the City to go to the next step of licensing and regulation of the alarm companies.  He stated that takes the focus away from the end user and places it on the alarm companies and with that comes a whole new set of problems that puts a burden on the Police Department.  Mr. McGuire stated that background investigations would have to be run on the alarm companies, including the owners and installers, before a license can be issued.  He stated that he has seen that as a money loser that does not pay for itself and the programs are more expensive to have than to operate and passing on the cost to meet the actual operating expenses becomes cost prohibitive to the citizen. 

 

Mr. McGuire stated that he wanted to make the Council aware that there is a possible step from this up to the next level, which is a much larger ordinance with more difficult procedures particularly with relation to the background investigations.

 

Vice Mayor Rogers asked how the public would be educated and how the word would get out.  She stated that is a key issue when a new fee is established and she asked if the City would be fined if the City Hall alarm goes off.

 

Chief MacKinnon replied that government agencies including schools and others would have to abide by the ordinance but would not be fined.  He stated that as far as education is concerned it would occur every time a false alarm comes in because staff envisions a two-part form with one for computer input and the other to be left at the alarm site explaining why they responded to the alarm and what they found at the alarm site.  He said that within the form is a box that reminds them again about the ordinance and that more than three alarm calls would incur a fee so that when fees are incurred there should be no surprise.  He stated if they want the information on the number of alarms allowed, a number to call would be provided on the form. 

 

Chief MacKinnon stated that the Police Department will also offer crime prevention services to include someone coming out to look at the facility to try to determine why the alarms are going off and to determine if employee education is needed or if the system is poorly designed.  He stated that they are not proposing to do a permitting process for the alarm companies through this ordinance.  He stated they are discussing one for alarm sites such as a Wal-Mart, McDonalds, or residences.  He explained that the fee being proposed is to find out who owns the business and to obtain contact numbers so that when the alarm goes off at 2 a.m. they have two or three contact numbers, for instance if someone is away on vacation.

 

Council Member Shuey stated that he favors the idea of having an ordinance that penalizes people for having false alarms but he is concerned about how the permit fee works especially for someone that already has an alarm.  He asked if the residence that has an alarm will be required to pay a permit fee or would they be grandfathered in.

 

Chief Mackinnon stated that staff was flexible enough to go either way.  He stated the way it is written now there would be a one-time fee but he would have no problem saying after January 1, 2002 anyone that has an alarm prior to that date would not be expected to pay a permit fee.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that the two items before Council were two of the best items she has seen before them in a long time.  She referred to the earlier comments made by Mr. McGuire and stated she was very concerned about the alarm companies.  She stated that was due to the fact that three friends of hers have experienced exactly what was being talked about where an alarm company installed alarms on the first floor and not for the second floor and so those people go back and break in through the windows.

 

She said that alarms are necessary but you have to be careful of the vendor. 

 

Council Member Lynch again stated one of her concerns has to do with the alarm companies.  She used her next door neighbor as an example, explaining who for almost two years could not get the alarm to stop going off and finally found that a rear door of the patio was loose and every time there was a wind storm the door set off the alarms.  She stated that was something the alarm company should have been able to find because they should have been able to shake a door and test it.  She voiced concern with how that scenario would be dealt with without penalizing the homeowner. 

 

Chief Mackinnon answered that the last thing he wants to deal with is recommending one alarm company over another.  He stated they could do a crime prevention inspection of the house to look at lighting, locks, and things like that and explain the different kind of alarm systems available so they would be educated on the issue when they talk to an alarm company.  He said that the homeowner should control the vendor.  Chief MacKinnon stated that when alarms are going off accidentally, that is what they have a maintenance agreement for and they should present the alarm company with the fees incurred to prompt them to send out a maintenance worker.  He indicated that the officers would be encouraged to take an extra minute or two to walk through the house to discover the problem, if possible, or there could be a crime prevention officer who would advise the homeowner to call a person that has greater expertise to find the problem.

 

Council Member Lynch referred to Section 20-31 (A) where it stated that the alarm user shall provide names and telephone numbers to the Police Department and asked when those have already been provided to the alarm company why the police would need them also.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied they would like to build a database because of the unreliability of the alarm companies.  He stated when they get alarms called in with a significant time elapsing from the time they are triggered until notification and have difficulty getting them to make the notifications, if they could do that and eliminate the middle man, it would cut some time for the officers.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that if you have a major alarm company buying up all the others that are really good, that is a problem  She referred to Section 20-35, stating that she had two questions.  She asked in Section (A) if there is a reason he is going with calendar year instead of fiscal year.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that it was for the ease of it and that the original thought was the use of January 1 as the kick off date.  He stated that after talking with the City Attorney it might take longer than that.  He said they are in no rush to do it quickly and if it works out to be July 1 that would be fine but that January 1 was used for the convenience of the residents, which is a lot easier to remember than July 1.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that she has been down this road with several municipalities and prior to adopting the ordinance they started out with $25 and people ignored it so by the time it came around to her, a $100 fee was adopted and it worked.  She stated that people do not think a thing about $25 and let the fees build up and totally ignore them but $100 caught their attention and cut down on the alarms in her town when compared to the neighboring towns.

 

Chief Mackinnon agreed with Council Member Lynch on the business side because it is a cost of doing business but stated that he would not want to hit the residents with a $100 fee up front.  He said he would bow to the Council’s wishes and split the fee between residential versus commercial if desired. 

 

Mayor Drake suggested the fee could be something progressive.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that the fee starts with $25 and after three calls works its way up to $100 and that after the 10th alarm, it is turned off.

 

Councilman Carroll stated that he had several questions and that his answer to recommendation number 1 was yes.  He said that he did not realize the severity of the problem but he contacted an alarm company and got an education as to what services are out there and how the systems are installed and what triggers them.  He said that when he read Avondale had 2000 calls and each took up an average of two officers it was upsetting to him.  He noted that he had no problem with people having alarms but they need to be maintained properly.  Councilman Carroll referred to Section 20-31, paragraph C, which read, “all such alarms shall dial a monitoring station who in turn contacts the receiving agency for action” and asked if all the alarms in the City are being monitored by some agency.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that all were monitored by an agency.

 

Councilman Carroll asked how the Police Department gets information, asking if it was by a call from the agency as to the alarm address.

 

Chief Mackinnon explained the reason for that clause was because alarm systems can be purchased out of magazines or through companies like Radio Shack, which will automatically dial wherever they are directed.  He stated they are communicating to those people not to have their system dial the Police Department because it automatically seizes a telephone line.  He stated that if the owner is away for the weekend, it calls every half-hour showing there is an alarm at the house.

 

Councilman Carroll asked how the department gets the word and if it was from monitors or neighbors because some have very audible alarms and the neighbors have to endure them when people are gone.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied those are the do-it-yourself-alarms set up to a siren or bell and the neighbors become the receiving agency and call the Police Department.  He stated those responding officers are applauded when they disconnect it.

 

Councilman Carroll referred to Section 20-34, paragraph B, which mentioned an exemption from permit fees and service charges and asked if that would be put in writing to the alarm user if they are a government agency or for other exempt entities.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that it would be on the permit indicating that they are required to adhere to the ordinance but would not be charged a fee.

 

Councilman Carroll referred to paragraph 3 of Section 20-35, which listed a $100 fee and asked what type of process could be used to prevent that.

 

Chief Mackinnon stated that it would be more on the part of the alarm users to be educated by the notice that is left each time the officers answer that call indicating the problem that was found.  He explained that if through an inspection none is found they would indicate an unknown cause on the notice so that when the owner returns and finds that out, they will be encouraged to find out why it happened.

 

Councilman Carroll asked if new residents and businesses would be notified through an information packet given to them when they sign up for services in Finance.

 

Chief Mackinnon stated they would do that and if they install an alarm and are not in the system then the answering officer will leave a notice that a permit is needed.

 

Councilman Carroll said Section 30-27 indicates an order to cease operations and asked if that order is given by the Police Department and if there had been discussions with the City Attorney as to the liability that might place on the City.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that he has not asked the City Attorney about that.

 

Councilman Carroll asked Mr. McGuire if someone had an alarm that malfunctioned frequently that was not fixed and were told by the City to cut it off after 10 responses what the City liability might be.

 

Mr. McGuire answered that there is always a risk of liability because there is always a risk that someone is going to sue you for just about anything.  He said legitimate risk of liability only arises if the City actually forces a person to remove an alarm system and then they are later robbed and come back with a claim that if they had the alarm system the Police Department would have known something was going on and there was the possibility of stopping it.  He stated this ordinance is different because it indicates that if the City tells the owner that their permit has been revoked and they continue to have false alarms then rather than going back to start at $25, they will always be at $100, which is the highest amount no matter how many alarms they had that year.  He stated there is no provision in the ordinance to penalize someone who operates without a license, which is a loophole in it because there is no penalty for not having a license in the first place. 

 

Mr. McGuire stated the next step of that is the one that subjects the City to some possible liability and would ask the Council to decide whether they want some stronger sanctions for not having an alarm license.  He indicated that is where most councils have a difficult decision and wind up making it less hard on the citizen and jump over them to the alarm company.  He stated that most councils do not have trouble making it difficult for an alarm company that is not doing it’s job right but when it impacts the citizens, it becomes more problematic. 

 

Mr. McGuire explained that if the ordinance said that after a certain amount of time the City was going to send someone out to remove the alarm he would be uneasy with it but the City is not doing that.  He stated there is a bit of working through they are going to have to come up with in order to make it fit the appropriate penalty for what happened and not leave the City in a position where they are stopping people from using their alarm systems.

 

Councilman Carroll asked if the device on the premises was what sends out the signal.

 

Mr. McGuire replied that the device sends out the signal and if they continue beyond the cease and desist order there is a continuing monitoring penalty but there is nothing that will allow the City to make them stop sending the signal out.  He stated the City could penalize them with fees but there is no way the City would want to possibly incur a liability by saying they need to take their system out.

 

Council Member Jones stated the number of false alarms that have come in appalled her.  She said that she has a great alarm system, which she never has to reset but has to turn it once in a while and is pretty mobile at 120 pounds.  She asked if Chief Mackinnon has had a chance to speak with Chief Nick of the City of Goodyear about their findings.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that he had not, but the International Association of Chiefs of Police recognizes it as a national problem and had brought a coalition together of alarm companies and police chiefs, offering seminars throughout the USA.  He stated they have received a lot of that information to draft an ordinance that they think will work.  He said he was not aware that Goodyear had pursued an ordinance.

 

Council Member Jones stated that Goodyear had looked at one about a year ago.  She stated that she agreed with both items but her concern was with the amount of bureaucracy that they are creating at the same level.  She explained that she saw this as being very labor intensive and given that the police staffing levels, asked if the calls and the paperwork could be handled by civilian personnel.

 

Chief Mackinnon said that with the exception of leaving the notice at the door, which the officers would be at anyway, they do write a report currently.  He stated a form would be created that is easy for them to check off and bring back to an in box at the station so the manpower would be very light.  He stated it was anticipated that a clerk would maintain the system and input the false alarms that were received over the past 24 hours.  He noted that they already have a module in the computer system that provides that type of service.  He stated the person that sits at the window could be utilized for that purpose.

 

Council Member Jones asked Chief Mackinnon if that meant that he would have sufficient staff to implement the program.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that was correct.

 

Council Member Jones asked if any part of the program could be phased in such as fines rather than permits for violations instead of creating additional costs to businesses to still have the same affect.

 

Mr. Schrader stated that was his thought also.  He suggested publicizing that people would be fined to see what impact that has in terms of the volume of false alarms.  He stated then if it is not doing what it should, whether or not to issue a permit or the ability to revoke it could be considered to enhance compliance at that time.  He stated that he saw it as somewhat of a challenge because of all the paperwork involved and there could be resistance for owners in being charged and having to fill out another form for something they already have.

 

Council Member Jones stated she would also be concerned about permit fees to help offset the cost of it in that a $100 permit fee for small businesses would be very excessive for many of them.  She stated that she had no problem at all fining people for excessive calls.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that she has one concern with permits.  She explained that her experience has been that it becomes far less labor intensive once it is all in place, even if it is just the permit process because people will be aware of what is going on and will try to watch their alarms more carefully.  She said that if people were told that it is cheaper to have the alarm system put in while the new home is under construction then picking up a form at Finance would be too late. 

 

Council Member Lynch stated that if they are going to go with the permitting process they need to back it up and get to the alarm companies so that they know they cannot install the wiring in the house without the permit because it would be too labor intensive to go through the developer and builders.  She stated that is no different than a builder constructing something on a home and knowing that either he or the owner has to get a building permit.  She said it would be the same with the alarms if the City did it up front and then the installer would know that a permit was required before installing the pre-wire.

 

Mayor Drake agreed with Mr. Schrader, stating it should be phased in with fines first and not permits because people are doing something that benefits the community by trying to resist crime and putting in an alarm and the City would be charging them for helping out the department.  He stated that he would like to see this come back without permitting in the first cut.

 

Mr. Schrader stated staff would follow up and talk to Goodyear since they have gone through this and may have some hybrid implementation plan.  He stated staff would further evaluate the process and talk with Mr. McGuire as well about what would be lost by not having the actual permitting and see if that could be left out in the first phase.

 

Mayor Drake asked Chief Mackinnon if it would be too costly without permitting if that was the case.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that he is very flexible.

 

Council Member Lynch said that a permit process could be done without a charge that would give the Chief the tracking that he needs so that he knows where the alarms are and who is responsible for monitoring the alarm if the homeowner is not there which is a big part of his program.  She said the permitting process is extremely important to get him what he needs.

 

Mayor Drake asked about a $10 fee.

 

Chief Mackinnon replied that could be phased in because they would have a database of false alarms versus alarm sites and since there are plenty of alarm sites that are never heard from there is really a need to have that on file so they can deal with the violators.

 

Mr. McGuire stated something that has been done in other communities is the development of an information card that indicates what the law says and it has a tear off mail back portion that asks them to provide information so the police can better respond to their alarm calls.  He said the database could be built without a permit system.  He noted that it might be a way to see the responses and any needed change in enforcement.

 

3)         PROPERTY MAINTENANCE AND RENTAL HOUSING CODES

Discussion with Council regarding the development and potential adoption of a Property Maintenance Code and a Rental Housing Code for the City of Avondale.

 

Mr. Schrader stated this was an item the Council has been interested in staff pursuing and staff has done some preliminary research.  He referred to Chief Paul Adam’s memo, stating there is an existing Housing Code that dates back to 1988 and staff is recommending that Council consider updating that housing code.  He stated staff is talking about two different components, one being a building type code and Chief Adams is recommending going with the International Property Maintenance Code because he feels it is more comprehensive and would allow staff to start doing the job of regulating exterior maintenance of properties within the community.  Mr. Schrader stated the other is rental-housing regulation and Chief Adams is recommending that Council consider adopting a stand-alone rental housing code. 

 

Mr. Schrader explained that Chief Adams had contacted other municipalities and obtained copies of their codes and proposes to use those codes as a template to put together one for Avondale, which would allow staff to start to deal with issues related to the appearance of the rental housing stock within the community.  He stated that one of the reasons for bringing it to Council before it is in final form is because he wanted feedback from them on whether they think staff is moving in the right direction, specifically while there are some obvious benefits to moving in that direction, there also are some real issues and potential draw backs as it relates to implementation issues associated with it. 

 

Mr. Schrader stated there could be some heated opposition from the landlord community and that typically when these types of codes are proposed they get together and rally around the cause of intrusion into private property rights and over regulation by City government and try to make it less onerous.  He indicated the memo states the need for a Housing Commission, which deals with exterior maintenance issues, and the other issues deal with enforcement, which will most likely require additional staffing but could be offset by a fee structure put into place.  He stated that given where the City is budgetarily this would have to be a self sustaining program in order to be able to afford moving in this direction. 

 

Mr. Schrader asked Council if staff is moving in the right direction on this and if there was some specific feedback they would like to give staff about things that Council absolutely wants to see in the codes or if there is something they do not want to see there.  He then referred to Chief Adams for additional information.

 

Chief Adams stated that Mr. Schrader had covered the item well and asked for comments from the Council.

 

Council Member Karlin stated there are certain cities that have a sanitation department that does this rather than the fire department and asked if Avondale’s Fire Department handles all of the issues listed in the memo.

 

Chief Adams replied that no one handles those issues at the present time and indicated that if there are issues with a property currently, a combination of Code Enforcement, Zoning Enforcement, and Building Inspection deal with them.  He stated if it is a structural issue the Building Inspector would be the most qualified to look at those specific kinds of issues and if there are too many houses then Zoning Enforcement is the most appropriate agency to deal with that and if the issue is with the condition of the yard or junk around the yard, then that comes under Code Enforcement.  He stated there is a significant lack of ability to deal with properties that staff may identify as possibly having a problem but unless they get a specific complaint or authorization from the property owner to go onto the property they are limited as to what they can do and from an exterior maintenance standpoint, there is no ordinance about how the property is supposed to look from the outside.

 

Council Member Karlin stated that she knows of several areas of concern and sited a trailer park with standing water and garbage.  She asked Chief Adams if he knew that Phil Gordon, City Councilman from the City of Phoenix has been very active in the slum landlord ordinances along with Donna O’Neil.  She stated that due to their efforts they have done a lot regarding going into neighborhoods and doing code enforcement.  She asked if he has had any dialogue with them to see what Phoenix is doing with regards to it.

 

Chief Adams replied that staff has talked with them and have obtained a copy of their ordinance, Tempe’s ordinance and some from Iowa and Illinois dealing with rental housing issues.  He said rental housing is an entirely different animal than owner occupied housing.  He stated that from his experience, the area they are having the most difficulties with is in the rental housing area because they really have no way of going after them from an inspection enforcement standpoint.

 

Council Member Karlin asked if staff would contact those rental property owners and express their concerns because certain things are happening in the house, such as a crack house problem.  She asked if letters are written to the landlords or if staff dealt directly with the renters of the property.

 

Chief Adams replied that in most cases they can not deal with either of them and under the present situation if they deal with a complaint from a renter and the situation is so severe that the property is declared uninhabitable, then that renter is out on the street so the renter will not call.  He explained that if the landlord has a problem with the property he is not going to call, so in order to enter the property they need the landlords permission unless it is a law enforcement issue.  He stated when the officers enter the property there have been a few violations found on the property at that time.  He indicated that the proposed Rental Housing Code would require routine inspection once every five years for a property under constant rental by the same person or when the property becomes vacant an inspection would be required before it can be rented to a new tenant.

 

Council Member Karlin asked if they would be fined or if a citation would be issued.

 

Chief Adams replied that the first thing that would occur would be stopping the owner from re-renting the property until it was brought up to standard and if it is vacant for some time without being improved they could go after it under the dangerous structure ordinance.

 

Council Member Karlin asked if this would include trailer parks.

 

Chief Adams replied that any rental property used as a domicile would be included.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that she did not see any mention of carbon monoxide or smoke detectors and the maintenance of those.

 

Chief Adams replied that smoke detectors are required as part of the building code but the maintenance issue should probably be addressed and he believed that it is addressed under the fire protection portion.  He stated the carbon monoxide detectors are not as big an issue because there is not as much of a heating issue here but that could be included as well.

 

Council Member Lynch asked about the status of heat detectors.

 

Chief Adams replied that they do not recommend those because of the cost factor, in that they are much more expensive to wire and require a tie in to some type of alarm system.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that there is a school of thought that indicates that by the time a smoke detector goes off the heat will have already done the damage and the fire may be there without the smoke.

 

Chief Adams replied that in the majority of fires that could be argued for a long time.

 

Council Member Lynch referred to page 2 under owner’s responsibilities in the rental housing code, items 46-51.  She stated they have to be careful there because it would depend on how a lease was written whether it would be the owner’s responsibility or the tenant’s responsibility.  She stated that is her only concern because if the lease says the tenant is to keep up the property then they would have to be careful as they get into that area.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that in Goodyear, homeowner associations are being formed where there are none because their community advocate is meeting with homeowners and explaining to them what they can do to help one another.  She indicated that there are two points, one of which is that more homeowner associations would cut down on the city’s labor-intensive areas. 

 

Council Member Lynch stated that through Neighborhood Housing she is very aware that people who have gone from welfare to welfare and know nothing other than that over their whole life time have never been taught how to maintain any thing and therefore these associations will educate them so they know there are certain things they have to do to a refrigerator to maintain it or to the outside of a house.  She stated she thought there are some ways that the City could be helped with tenants and working with landlords to have some kind of homeowner classes would help that along the way.  She suggested staff might be able to get Neighborhood Housing to let tenants be a part of the training being done since it is a service being provided to the community.  She stated there are probably other volunteer organizations that would do it as well.

 

Mayor Drake stated there could be a class for property owners along with a proposed list of things that they could offer to their tenants.

 

Council Member Lynch stated that would be like what the homeowners associations often do.

 

Council Member Jones stated that basically the Council has two different codes before them and asked if that was correct.

 

Chief Adams replied the property maintenance code would expand what the City currently has to deal with regarding exterior type issues, not only on owner occupied housing but also on any housing within the City.  He stated the rental housing would deal more specifically with interior issues or rental properties.

 

Council Member Jones stated the City has a lot of codes in place and she would be more inclined to move forward with the rental property and wait on the property maintenance since the homeowners association already does a lot of that type of enforcement.  She stated that they have a lot of people who could be cited under the existing codes and gave as an example a welding truck that was doing work at the house behind hers.  She noted that the City has a lot on their plate as far as enforcement already and trying to follow up on those things is more than a full time job.  Council Member Jones stated that was why she would lean toward the rental property and manage what they have and not add more to what they already have trouble dealing with.  She explained that she has a problem punishing the masses for the sins of a few and adding the other layers of bureaucracy but she knows what staff is doing and no one complains more than she does.  She stated the rental property owners needed to be talked to.  Council Member Jones stated some evidence of their concern was seen at the Kinderman meeting because the thought of this stood them all on their ear, some of who were innocent and some who were not.  She said they should work with them however they can. 

 

Mayor Drake asked Chief Adams if the owners should be given a heads up or if staff should continue to work through and prepare the ordinance.

 

Chief Adams replied that if Council wishes to proceed either with the Property Maintenance Code, the Rental Housing Code or both, the first step should be to appoint a Housing Commission and let them work on the front end of developing these kinds of things rather than bringing them in on the back end when they would have to deal with appeals and those kinds of things and then the citizens commission could work through some of those issues.

 

Mr. Schrader explained his prior experience in developing a housing maintenance code through the use of a commission.  He said it started off with a citizens group and worked with all the potentially impacted elements within the community and then a recommendation was made to the Council and was adopted.  He stated with the citizens group already in place it could then be involved with the ongoing administration of the regulations.  He suggested that it may be best to work it through with a citizens group because they are going to have to wrestle with the key decision points of whether to deal with something that is just exterior first or deal with it all at once, doing both exterior and interior.  He stated that even if they do interior there is probably a number of different alternatives in terms of how they would go about implementing that as far as issues of frequency of inspection and the level of permitting required.

 

Councilman Carroll stated the City is operating under a 1988 code which is aged and needs to change and asked if he is proposing to take both of these draft ordinances and combine them so that Council can have one code to adopt that would give a department the ability to be both the enforcement agency and the appropriate agency to perform inspections of interiors.

 

Chief Adams stated that as the City Manager indicated, if they were to get to the point that a Rental Housing Code were adopted and staff was involved in interior inspections, then the type of person that you would need to hire for those inspections would be along the lines of a building inspector rather than a code enforcement officer.  He stated if the current building inspectors were expected to do this it would be overwhelming because they have enough on their plate now trying to deal with new construction and with existing occupancies from an inspection standpoint.   Chief Adams stated that in many cases this would be serviced by a separate entity in the City that deals with housing inspections and in many cases takes over the actual code enforcement functions as well.

 

Councilman Carroll asked if, upon inspection of a long-term rental property, interior repairs are found to be needed who would bear the cost of those repairs.

 

Chief Adams replied that was the issue the landlords had brought up in the meeting Council Member Jones had referred to, in that there are lots of things that protect the renters but very little to protect the landlord from damage caused by a renter to a property.  He stated that is an issue that needs to be addressed within the code as to what the renter’s responsibility with regards to that property is and what resource the landlord has outside of that.  Chief Adams stated that as it currently stands, the landlord would be responsible for it since he is responsible for maintaining the property in a habitable state if he is going to rent it to someone.  He stated that if it were damaged to the point that the inspector feels it is a violation of the standards established in the code, then the landlord would be required to fix it.  He explained that is very easy to say but what happens, if it is determined the property is uninhabitable because it violates the standard, is that the renter is out on the street.  Chief Adams stated this deals with people so the city must be very careful how we go about doing things, even though on the one hand we are trying to protect these individuals from living in substandard housing.  He stated at least it is a roof over their head and they are not on the street.

 

Mayor Drake stated that he is sure staff would be looking at what other cities do and noted that Councilman Gordon is also related to Ron Ober so he could be used as a reference regarding this issue..

 

Council Member Shuey stated that he does not want to see slum lords in Avondale but he is also concerned about affordable housing.  He explained that in some cases affordable housing may be a rental and the City needs to be prepared to deal with the consequences of the City saying the renter has to move out today.  He stated homelessness in other cities has resulted from various types of rentals being closed down and there needs to be some sort of a plan in place in advance to deal with potential homelessness that would be caused as a result of renters being asked to leave.

 

Council Member Karlin stated Council needed to do both of these things because these are about living conditions and quality of life.  She stated that she liked the idea of forming a Housing Commission.

 

Mayor Drake stated he wants to see both also because people that own property have an obligation to their neighbors to keep up their properties.  He said there are economic interests as a property owner that we all have.  

 

Vice Mayor Rogers stated the Housing Commission is a good idea but she thought there was a need to know what the housing stock is in Avondale.  She stated sometimes a Housing Commission thinks they are just going to do rules and regulations and really does not know what is out there.  She stated when there are income levels such as there are south of the freeway, it could cause lots of homelessness as Council Member Shuey referred to.  She stated that some sort of safety net needed to be put into place.  Vice Mayor Rogers stated that in the past they have worked with Social Services to do that and Council has put some money in an account through Social Services as opposed to working with homeless in Phoenix.  She stated that somehow needed to be worked out because if they went in there right now there would be a lot of homeless people in south Avondale.  She stated that education has to be the key.

 

Mayor Drake asked Mr. McGuire if a stipulation could be placed in the ordinance that it is the property owners’ responsibility to find housing in the case where it is uninhabitable.

 

Mr. Schrader replied that the owner could just walk away if the City cracks down on a particular structure or structures and if what the owner needs to do is beyond what they want to put into it financially.

 

Mr. McGuire stated that the key point here is that slumlord ordinances often times have that effect.  He stated that under the state statutes, nuisances are abated that are out in the open and there is a requirement to do that and it allows a lien to be placed on the property.  He said that as soon as the City goes inside the walls they have taken on a whole new ball game.  He explained that opens up the potential for the Housing Commission to become the purveyor of the grants that the Council accepts and approves when they identify property.  Mr. McGuire stated there may be the ability to apply for more housing funds to bring more housing up to code and then the City would take them over and dole them out as is now done through NHS, Habitat for Humanity, or some other organization.  He noted that the possibilities for that group are very broad and starting off with the code with an understanding of where it could end up is probably the best way to set that group in motion.

 

Council Member Lynch voiced concern that there are also owner occupied buildings where there are no homeowner associations and no tenant landlord situations, where there are unsafe conditions.  She asked how something could be imposed on tenant landlord and not imposed on the owner occupied.

 

Chief Adams stated the difference is that rental property is considered commercial property to the degree that someone is making a profit from the use of that property and is not for his or her individual domicile.  He stated that with respect to owner occupied property, it can be addressed a couple of different ways.  He explained that in the front end, it is addressed by the building code and if the property is to be sold, a lot of those issues are dealt with through the property sale process which includes subsequent inspection, so there is some degree of protection there.  Chief Adams stated that if it is your property then you have to suffer with what you have created but at the point where the property becomes an issue with the neighbors then the City can step in because it has nuisance ordinances and code enforcement powers.   He stated if the Police Department raids a property and it’s interior is deficient, then by the fact that they have made entry the City can go in and deal with those issues and restrict re-entry into that property until those issues have been resolved.  

 

Council Member Lynch asked what happens under Arizona law when a piece of property is sold “as is”.

 

Chief Adams replied, having just gone through the process of selling his house, his real estate agent told him very clearly that there is no such thing in Arizona and explained that if he purchases a piece of property “as is”, it is up to the purchaser to have an inspection done and to accept the property.  He stated during the inspection process 100 items may need to be fixed and the seller can fix them or the purchaser can void the contract.

 

Council Member Lynch stated her biggest concern is the person who buys the property and is perfectly satisfied with it being “as is”, which is what the Connecticut law allows.

 

Chief Adams stated that he was not aware of anything in place within the City that deals with owner occupied housing that the City would be able to intervene in.

 

Mr. McGuire stated there is one issue that is the most problematic with the sale of substandard properties and that is sales that are handled by a little company without inspections and other requirements.  He noted that these are transactions that happen with buyers who are not in a position to feel they can do anything, for instance someone that is in the Country illegally and could not say they do not want this property “as is”.  He stated these are the bigger problems in terms of things that are not going to show up for the City. 

 

Mr. McGuire stated that as soon as the City goes to interior inspections and issuing administrative warrants to go in and inspect the property and act on behalf of the public’s safety, he is reluctant to go there currently.  He said the City does not have the manpower to do it and it would take an entirely new Code Enforcement Department.  He stated they needed to focus on the County Health Department’s administrative warrant capacity.  He stated in those areas where the City has some idea there is a problem, those relationships should be explored to see if the County could do some of the work for us.

 

Mayor Drake said that the ordinance is not about interior or owner occupied but is about exteriors and asked if that was correct.

 

Chief Adams stated that as the ordinance is currently proposed it would be for exteriors for all housing and interior inspections on rental property.

 

Councilman Carroll said that last week there was a fire in Phoenix.  He explained the point that the Fire Department wanted to stress to the public was that, had the exterior of the property been maintained more orderly, then they would not have lost the structure.  He stated due to the vehicles and other junk in the back yard, the fire was impossible to fight and they lost the house so he thought this ordinance would be an ideal thing for the City.

 

Mayor Drake asked if the proposed ordinance would address vehicles on the property.

 

Chief Adams stated that they needed to be careful how they word the maintenance of the exterior yard.  He stated has an ordinance now that says if vehicles are visible from the street, there is a problem but if they are not visible from the street they cannot go into the back yard unless they have a compliant that what is going on is affecting the neighbors.

 

Council Member Shuey stated there was at least one instance when they were doing a cleanup where there was a house where they could not see the front yard from the street.  He asked if the same rule would apply to the front yard.

 

Chief Adams replied that if it is screened from the street, unless there is some issue that extends past the property line they couldn’t deal with it.

 

Councilman Carroll asked if the screening of a yard must meet code standards and said he knows of a property in the City that uses black plastic as screening and then used sheets of plywood.

 

Mr. Schrader stated he has seen where the property owner has been required to fix that type of situation or if there is a rusted chain link fence, they can be required to replace it.  He stated it depended upon what standard ultimately adopted for that area.

 

Council Member Jones cautioned staff as they proceed because she could envision 10 to 20 homes that would probably be condemned upon sight.  She explained that while they may not live up to the City’s standards, they still remain people’s homes and have been their homes for many years and if they do not have those homes they will have no place to go.

 

Mayor Drake stated they are going down a tough road at the onset but someone has to do it and the Council has been up to the tasks that the citizens have asked of them.  He stated that after this is set in place, there would not be 20 homes in five years but probably only 1 or 2.  He stated he is willing to tackle it because it is something the community wants.  He stated that with Habitat for Humanity and NHS there is no reason those homes cannot be replaced and the City could work with them on that.

 

Mr. Schrader stated that it would be challenging coming up with the standards.  He noted that in the community he came from, which was an older community, they dealt with it as fairly as possible.  He stated that if they enforced the code that was on the books to its letter, they would have had a rebellion on their hands, as well as other logistical issues such as homelessness.  He stated they used major and obvious violators and tried to identify key things that needed to be upgraded.  Mr. Schrader stated that Council Member Jones was right in that you run the risk that the potential number of homes that there would be enforcement action against would be staggering unless they focus on some key things for which they want to make headway on.

 

Mayor Drake stated that a rusted fence would probably not be an issue but if it is in disrepair and lying down that would be an issue that needed to be addressed.

 

Vice Mayor Rogers stated that 3 or 4 years ago they had an adhoc Housing Committee and the Mercy Housing Plan came out of that because people were concerned about affordable housing.  She explained the County was brought in because Section 8, County housing were issues so they were at the table as was HUD.  She suggested they look at transitional housing because one of the things brought up was the thought that people could be put in an emergency housing situation while the house is fixed.  She asked if pulling that group together again might help in getting started.

 

Mayor Drake asked if that gave staff some semblance of direction.

 

Mr. Schrader suggested instead of going out and forming the Housing Commission immediately that they try to pull together a broader community coalition without having to worry about making a formal appointment.  He stated that coalition could be a working group to work on the ordinance and to address all the issues in detail that Council has.  He stated as they go through the process of adopting the ordinance and coming up with the final product that all agree on, then the Housing Commission could be established and would be in charge of regulating and would serve as the board of appeals.  He stated Council might want some differentiation between the group that works on the ordinance and the one that administers it because some may want to transition to it and some may not.

 

Mayor Drake stated that was a good way to prepare those serving for moving on to the formal commission.

 

Mr. Schrader stated that staff could come up with a suggested list of entities to ask to participate in this and would give that to Council so if they have others not been covered, that could be related to staff and they would be invited to participate.

 

Council Member Lynch expressed concern that it needed to be kept very public because if not people will think something is being developed without them knowing about it and they will be hurt.  She stated that she does not have a problem with it if people can transition if they want to but it has to be publicly announced that it is being done.

 

Council Member Karlin asked if it would be possible to not get just homeowners but also get landlords as part of the committee.

 

Mr. Schrader replied that he would envision them as part of this broad group and to have a divergent committee.

 

4)         DISCUSSION OF PROPOSED COUNCIL RULES OF PROCEDURE

Discussion of proposed Council Rules of Procedure.  For information and discussion only.

 

Mayor Drake asked if this could be postponed until a later date.

 

Mr. Schrader replied it would not be until the next work session in November because of the Council’s full calendar and that it was up to them as to when to meet.

 

Council Member Lynch asked if they could schedule one night to do this and get it over with.

 

Mr. Schrader stated that staff would pick a couple of dates and see if Council could make them and send that out before the next work session.

 

Council Member Lynch suggested a workshop just for this item so they could work through it.  She stated that otherwise you lose track of the thought processes.

 

Mr. Schrader said they would try to schedule a separate meeting for this item.

 

 

5)         EXECUTIVE SESSION

Council Member Shuey moved to hold an executive session.  Council Member Karlin seconded the motion.  Motion carried unanimously.  Meeting adjourned to executive session at 7:30 p.m.

 

The Council may hold an executive session for the following purposes: (a) Pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38-431.03 (A)(7) for discussion or consultation with City representatives in order to consider its position and instruct its representatives regarding negotiations for the purchase of property for public facilities; (b) Pursuant to; Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38-431.03 (A)(4) for discussion or consultation with the City’s attorney in order to consider its position and instruct the City’s attorney regarding the Council’s position regarding negotiations with APS/SRP.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                            ______________________

                                                                                                                   Mayor Drake

 

 

 

_____________________________

  Linda M. Farris, CMC

      City Clerk

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

I hereby certify that the foregoing minutes are a true and correct copy of the minutes of the special meeting of the City council of the City of Avondale held on the 21st day of August 2001.  I further certify that the meeting was duly called and held and that a quorum was present.

 

 

 

_____________________________

  Linda M. Farris, CMC

      City Clerk