The city council will likely approve legislation by the end of the month that will establish a mandatory rental-housing inspection law. Landlords would have to pass an inspection to obtain a rental business license, which the legislation also establishes. Currently, the city only inspects rental units at the request of tenants---a system that, advocates for tenants say, doesn't do enough to protect tenants from retaliation by landlords.

The proposal, sponsored by Sally Clark, comes in response to a bill passed in the state legislature this year that says any city that does not have a mandatory rental inspection program in place by June 10 of this year will be restricted to the terms of the state law, which only allows inspections in situations where a tenant's health or safety is immediately threatened. That's an extremely high bar: For example, if a landlord was renting a unit without an adequate kitchen, that probably wouldn't meet the safety threshold, even though it's illegal under city landlord-tenant law.

Under the proposal, landlords would have to comply with all the standards in the city's housing code, which sets minimum standards for lighting, heat, sanitation, minimum room sizes, and security, among other things. Inspectors would be certified by, but would not work directly for, the city's Department of Planning and Development.

Those standards, if they pass, will be as strict as any the council has ever discussed. Don't get too excited, though: Council staffers say the legislation is just a "placeholder" that will allow them to get legislation passed before the June 10 deadline. And after that? More "discussion"---in other words, exactly what the council has been doing for 25 years. The one thing that's different this time, though: If the council doesn't come with a less-stringent alternative (enforcing some level of standard between the housing code and the state's much looser "life safety" standard), the legislation will require landlords to comply with the entire housing code or not get their licenses.

Interestingly, tenants' advocates like council member Nick Licata supported the state's less stringent proposal, in part because of the decades-long impasse on a city inspection law. (Officially, the city opposed the bill). I've got a call in to Licata, whose staff are out of the office today, to ask him his position on the city's new proposal.
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