Rental management and business owners spoke out against a potential new ordinance requiring them to have a city-issued business license and pay an annual inspection fee intended to help the Tehachapi Police Department address drug and chronic nuisances within the city.
Their comments came during Monday night's City Council meeting, when the proposed ordinance was discussed.
“We go by every property numerous times a year and write down the conditions of it. We have chronic places that are a problem. We have worked with code enforcement every time they call us on a problem … we get on it because we want our properties well maintained,” said Nikki Nelson, owner of Four Seasons Realty.
She added that every business owner should be notified if there is a problem. Rental property owners should not be penalized for other owners who don't maintain their properties.
City resident Pete Graff asked if code enforcement officers already drive by residences to examine the exteriors of buildings and not the interiors. Police Chief Kent Kroeger said that was the case.
The meeting became contentious when Graff said, "Everything I heard you list is pretty much code enforcement's job now, correct?" Kroeger asked him to explain his question.
Graff said, "You said chronic nuisance and I was actually looking for a definition on that." Then he asked city attorney Tom Schroeter to "keep your little movements over there to yourself."
Schroeter responded by saying, "It's code enforcement."
Then Mayor Susan Wiggins said, "Stop everybody. If you are going to come up and ask a question ... listen to me."
Graff said, "I'm trying to ask this man a question. You listen to me."
Wiggins retorted, "Mr. Graff sit down...Sit down Mr. Graff or I will have somebody sit you down."
Graff ended the conversation and said, “This is a tax, under the eyes of a business license.”
Public comment continued as at least five people stood up to speak.
Clint Davies, a renter in the city, said, ”It is a hidden tax. If the city charges money, it's going to raise rental rates. We are already in a tight rental market.”
The city feels differently.
“The whole purpose is to get in front of these chronic nuisance locations,” Police Chief Kent Kroeger said.
He added, “We place this requirement on them, we do the initial inspection to ensure they are in compliance with all of our municipal codes, and hopefully we won’t get bad tenants in there and it won’t bring down the property values of the surrounding properties.”
In the years from 2015 to 2019, the city responded to take action on 48 drug and chronic nuisance properties within the city, and of these nuisances, an analysis revealed that 87.5 percent were rental properties at the time of enforcement.
The ordinance is designed to help the city, in partnership with the Tehachapi Police Department, reduce the amount of time spent on crime, make sure buildings are adhering to Tehachapi's zoning code, and ensure good maintenance and cleanliness, landscaping, and other items, according to documents in the March 4 City Council agenda.
“These licensing requirements will ensure that rental units do not create public nuisances that may be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare of the community. Initial inspections and annual inspections shall be subject to an inspection fee established by the city council by resolution," the documents state.
Schroeter, in reference to rental properties not paying this city business license now, said, “This is a loophole in the law. ... Everybody who has a business has to pay for a license. It’s a revenue-generating idea. It’s not to stop people from renting out their properties, it’s to fund enforcement to combat that.”
Wiggins said, “One of the problems with some of these properties, (they) are non-resident owners who live in Orange County or San Francisco, and all they do is cash a check every month. Part of the business license will tell us … who to go after to get it fixed.”
No data was provided as to how many properties in the city were owned by investors outside Tehachapi or residential business owners.
The fees on inspections and business licenses are still pending.
“The business license fee is based on business gross receipts," Kroeger said.
He added that a study is currently underway to see how much the business license and inspections could run. There is an incentive for rental property owners, after the initial inspection by the police department, to qualify for an annual self-inspection, thus reducing the fee by half.
The topic will be addressed at a future City Council meeting, but a date has not yet been set. The inspection and business license fees will be set by City Council resolution.