By Madison Purvis
The Iowa City City Council passed a provision 7-0 Tuesday night backing rent abatement when the Housing Code is being violated in a way that presents risk to health and safety and in emergencies. The measure was added to Iowa City’s Affordable Housing Action Plan.
The ordinance also allows for rent to be abated if the landlord has not obtained a rental permit, fails to provide a service that is deemed essential, including water, heat, sewer, and electricity, or doe not fix conditions in the property that present a risk.
The provision is partly in response to the condition of Rose Oaks in 2016. Rose Oaks was a low-income housing unit that was torn down and replaced with The Quarters luxury student housing.
However, if the situation that is declared fit for rent abatement is resolved within five days, the rent will not be abated.
City Councilor Pauline Taylor defines rent abatement as “the holding of rent,” a sort of “safeguarding.”
If a rental property were declared a potential risk to a renter’s health or safely, the renter “would not be obligated to pay rent until the harmful conditions were taken care of.”
If the rent is abated for any reason, landlords are not allowed to evict tenants for failure to pay rent.
Mayor Jim Throgmorton said the ordinance is “very important for anyone that is a renter to be aware of.”
Taylor said there is obviously an issue with unsafe rental properties in Iowa City because the ordinance was pursued.
She noted that Tracy Hightshoe, the city Neighborhood Services coordinator, reported that the first residence they investigated had mold in it.
Taylor said that she feels UI students may be affected more by this ordinance because they are more transitional renters and may be more likely to be taken advantage of.
Students may have the mindset that they should not report problems because they will most likely not live in the space for a long period of time. However, if they see this ordinance, it may draw their attention living conditions that are not healthy and something should be done about them.
This ordinance is clearly important for other members of the community as well, because the rental properties could be their long-term homes.
Ben Nelson, the UI Student Government City Council liaison, said he believes “this is a great idea for protecting the consumer population.”
“Students should reach out to the city if they feel conditions are bad,” Nelson said.
The city can help make the changes necessary to make sure the living environment is safe and healthy, he said.
If the city had not supported the ordinance, UISG would have spoken up to show its support.