Government

Six months after rental moratorium, Iowa City approves new rules for rental housing

City adds parking rules, radon testing

Matt Wagner, a city of Iowa City housing inspector, checks on a complaint this summer in a city neighborhood. The Iowa City Council has passed two measures for rental housing, setting out rules for parking spaces in front of a property and establishing radon testing for rental units. (The Gazette)
Matt Wagner, a city of Iowa City housing inspector, checks on a complaint this summer in a city neighborhood. The Iowa City Council has passed two measures for rental housing, setting out rules for parking spaces in front of a property and establishing radon testing for rental units. (The Gazette)
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It’s been nearly six months since new rental permits for single-family and duplex properties have been issued for residences in Iowa City’s core neighborhoods.

The Iowa City Council instituted a 10-month rental permit moratorium that went into effect May 30 in response to state legislation banning cities from using or adopting rental caps.

The city had previously implemented a 30 percent rental cap of single-family and duplex rental properties in certain neighborhoods after 2017 legislation was enacted that prevented the city from limiting rental permits based on the number of unrelated people residing within the property.

City leaders have said the rental cap and other measures were necessary to stabilize and preserve the character of core neighborhoods, particularly those close to the University of Iowa.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved two new measures designed to ensure neighborhoods are safe and healthy for all residents, as well as maintaining the character of those neighborhoods.

The first measure is a code amendment addressing paving in front of single-family and duplex properties.

Stan Laverman, senior housing inspector for the city, said the city code currently allows for paving in the front of a property as long as the paving leads directly to a parking space and 50 percent of the front of the property remains open space.

Laverman said some of that paved space — designed to be a patio, grilling space or basketball court — is not a conforming parking space, yet is being used for parking.

“It just becomes an enforcement nightmare to chase after those spots,” Laverman said.

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Under the proposed amendment, additional paved areas would have to be at least 9 feet away from a conforming parking space or aisle, Laverman said.

Up to 50 percent of the front of the property can still be paved. It just can’t be contiguous with existing parking.

“We’re trying to eliminate those de facto parking spots than end up in the front yard that really change the characteristics of the neighborhood,” he said.

The second measure is an ordinance requiring radon testing for all single-family detached structures and duplexes before a rental permit is issued or renewed.

Under this regulation, if radon exceeds certain levels, a radon mitigation system will be required.

For properties with radon under the threshold, testing will be done at least every eight years, said Tracy Hightshoe, director of Neighborhood and Development Services.

Hightshoe said while radon testing is a standard part of a home sale, it’s typically not done with rental properties.

“(Renters) should have the same type of safety as every other house, whether it’s a rental or owner-occupied,” Hightshoe said. “It’s just something that’s needed.”

Hightshoe said the ordinance fits the council’s goal of ensuring that all properties provide healthy, safe living environments.

The measures were well-received by the council.

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“I just think this is really important, and I think our city is moving forward by doing this kind of thing,” said council member Mazahir Salih.

Hightshoe said the two new measures are part of a larger group of changes the city has implemented in recent years to promote safety and stability within neighborhoods, including limiting the number of bedrooms in single-family and duplex properties, setting minimum habitable space requirements, moving to annual inspections for certain types of rental properties and hiring more city staff to meet those needs.

“This is in conjunction with everything else we’ve done,” Hightshoe said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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