Rental unit inspections draw interest in Milaca

Milaca – Owners of Milaca rental properties could soon find city officials knocking on their doors seeking inspections of rental units.

The Milaca City Council has given Zoning Administrator Marshall Lind the green light to have the Planning Commission research the process of rental property inspections.

The goal is to eventually have an ordinance on the books that makes such inspections legal in Milaca.

Presently, neither the Milaca Fire Department, the Police Department, nor the zoning officer have the authority to inspect rental properties.

The issue came to a head in early May when a complaint put the safety of residents of an apartment complex into question and the landlord didn’t grant authorities access to the complex.

“We have no ordinance and had no standing to get it,” said Milaca Police Chief Todd Quaintance.

So city officials called in the state fire marshal’s office, which does have the authority to order an inspection of dwellings.

Fourteen violations were uncovered. What the fire marshal discovered was potentially alarming.

One renter had their power shut off a few months prior. Inside the apartment was a gas generator, according to a report of the State Fire Marshal. Fuel was stored in the apartment in order to power the generator, the report states. In addition, apartment units and hallways did not have working smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. Some of the smoke detectors hadn’t worked for as long as 10 years, the fire marshal noted in his report. Exits were blocked and unsafe conditions existed, the fire marshal noted.

Among other violations: Hallway or stairwell doors were being held open so they were not able to automatically close in case of a fire; combustible materials were held in exits and exit enclosures; electrical panels were blocked; there were no smoke alarms in basement stairwells and main room, on the first floor landing, in the main entrance stairwell and in apartment bedrooms; there was no emergency lighting to illuminate hallways automatically in case of fire; there were no address numbers on the complex; there was faulty wiring in some open junction boxes; the dryer exhaust vent was faulty; the electrical room was not posted; and there were holes in drywall.

After seeing the list of violations and hearing Quaintance’s proposal for an ordinance with some teeth to it, Council Member Ken Muller was quick to respond, “I think it’s time.”

Quaintance shared some data that supports the need for a rental property inspection policy.

“About 20 percent of the properties in town are rentals, and about 50 percent of the nuisance letters we send out go out to rental properties,” he said.

The Milaca Planning Commission will be charged with researching the ins and outs of a rental property inspection ordinance. When completed, the commission’s findings will be presented to the Milaca City Council.

Quaintance told members of the City Council that he looks forward to someday having a program in place.