In an effort to stymie landlords who continually break occupancy laws, the Provo Municipal Council added another preventative measure during Tuesday’s council meeting.
The council voted in favor of an over-occupancy clause that would make continual violations a civil code breach, and would come with potential court fines.
Zoning compliance has been a top priority for the council for the past three years and this measure gives the city another tool to stop repeat offenders.
It is not intended to hurt or harm the tenants living in over-occupied rental apartments and homes, according to Brian Jones, council attorney.
“The intent is designed primarily to be used against repeat offending landlords,” Jones said. “It will be very rarely used.”
Many of the council members were concerned it would attack or harm tenants. Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said in a letter to the council that she shared that concern and assured young single professionals this was not the intent.
“As mayor I’ve tried to be supportive of your priorities,” the letter stated. “Some of the single professionals have gotten the message they are not valued or welcomed.”
Kaufusi said that is far from true, and her message, along with that of several council members, is they are not only wanted but needed in the community.
By putting over-occupancy on the nuisance list, along with visual blights, fire hazards, noxious odors and accumulated garbage, it still will most likely not change how over-occupancy is handled for the majority of landlords or their tenants.
“What changes is if the city decides to use the tool,” Jones said. “We wouldn’t use it against a tenant.”
Jones said the type of landlord who fits the situation is one who violates occupancy, pays the $750 fee and continues with breaking the law over and over again.
Another situation is when tenants leave, the landlord cleans up the property, gets a pass from the city and then falls back to over-occupancy, again and again.
Jones said it would be more of a tool for the legal department of the city so they could go after landlords in court and fines could potentially be $5,000.
Councilman David Knecht asked if additional wording could be added to get redress from landlords if forced out of their apartment as a result of the landlord breaking the law.
David Acheson, a neighborhood chairman, said there was a landlord in his neighborhood on Briar Lane near Brigham Young University that violated the law, cleaned up, then brought in more tenants.
“It’s like, violate the law, rinse and repeat. It’s a nuisance,” Acheson said. “The right way is for police officers to show up at your door, but that costs money.”
As they prepared to vote, Councilman David Sewell reiterated the mayor’s statement on single professionals.
“I support this for the most egregious cases,” Sewell said.
Council chairman David Harding was also concerned that working singles would take away from the meeting that they weren’t wanted.
“Young single professionals are wanted and valued. They are what makes Provo, Provo.” Harding said.