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Fire marshal concerned with housing disputes, subsidized housing

Housing inspections, disputes overwhelm NFD

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 10:03 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 10:22 a.m. CDT
(Jamee A. Pierson/Daily News)
Council members Miranda Kulis and Craig Trotter at the city council workshop on Monday. The council heard from Newton Fire Marshal Mike Knoll on the rental inspection and crime-free housing programs currently underway in the city.

The state of rental inspections and the status of the crime-free housing program were discussed during a city council workshop on Monday. Newton Fire Marshal Mike Knoll gave several figures to the council along with recommendations for future work.

By the numbers, the city has 812 single-family rental homes and 155 multi-unit complexes totaling approximately 1,800 rental units. Knoll also reported that 20 rental properties have been shut down with about 100 units deemed unfit dwellings.

Areas of concern, Knoll said, have primarily been in subsidized housing. The condition of the units, housekeeping issues and instances of landlords taking advantage of those with few options were among the top problems facing the department on a regular basis.

Another problem taking up a large among of Knoll’s time are landlord/tenant disputes. He said frequently both parties come to him to figure out civil issues. While one method he has found to weed out small disputes has been to make the tenants put their names and complaints in writing, he would like to see the formation of a rental housing board to field the issues.

“It’s an overwhelming task for me to handle them all,” Knoll said. “There are only two fire departments in the state that currently handle rental housing programs. All the rest are done through either an independent company or they have their own housing authority within the city.”

Knoll, along with Lt. Bill Henninger, also spoke about the crime-free housing program for rental units. To date, six classes have been held with more than 60 participants targeting the larger complexes with multiple units. The next class set for December will focus on those who own one to three units.

Overall, the two said they were happy with the progress of the program. Henninger said the police department has been receiving more calls for service, but he said he thinks that is due to people realizing something was going to get done by taking action.

“It has given teeth to officers to force the managers to come and work to help solve the problems,” Henninger said. “We may have more calls, but it is because they know something is going to get done.”

As the program moves into its next phase of more “mom and pop” rental units, Knoll said he would like to look at creating an online class for landlords to take. Because the landlords in these situations often have another day job, having an online class will make it easier for them to complete the course, which is currently only available during the day.

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com