Opelika Tables Proposed Rental Ordinance

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PHOTO BY HANNAH LESTER

BY MICHELLE KEY
PUBLISHER

The Opelika City Council voted to table an ordinance to create a rental registry during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. Nearly 20 men and women who own and or rent property in Opelika gathered to present their thoughts on the proposed legislation. Businessman, Kurt Hayley, delivered more than 500 signatures of people in opposition to the ordinance to the council.

Annie Jones also spoke out against the ordinance about how it is not the time to enact this type of ordinance.

“We have not been able to evict anybody in a long time,” Jones said. “I have a tenant that owes me over 10 months rent and you want me to come up with more fees? … We are in the middle of a pandemic and we just don’t have time for [this.] It needs to be tabled and have further discussion on it.”

Local attorney Marrell McNeal discussed how the ordinance criminalizes landlord conduct. Section 12.61 of the ordinance states that violations of the provisions set forth in the ordinance or failure to comply with any of its requirements shall constitute a misdemeanor, and upon conviction of said misdemeanor could be fined up to $500 or imprisoned for no more than 180 days — or both. It also states that every day the violation continues constitutes a separate offense. McNeal discussed the extension of the eviction moratorium and how that could keep a landlord from removing a tenant from a property.

“In my experience in my law practice, it takes between a month and two months to get an eviction done,” he said.

“Each additional day is an additional violation. So in the 45 days it would take me to get a tenant off the property would result in $22,500 and [potentially] 22 and one-half years in jail under this statute.”

Not everyone that spoke was against the ordinance.

Chuck Beams spoke in favor of it.

“We support this ordinance as a significant step forward for the city … I think this is precisely what we need.”

He also spoke against those that were in opposition of the ordinance, stating, “I am amazed at the folks that stood up in opposition to this ordinance. I have seen the yard signs opposing [it.] The tagline of their movement is ‘Save affordable housing.’ I think it should read rather, ‘Save the small group of wealthy property owners’ bottom line’”, Beams said.

He urged the council to vote for the ordinance.

“We cannot let a few slumlords throw their perceived weight around and intimidate us. In closing, I would encourage you all to be courageous and do the right thing.”

After all the comments, both for and against the proposed ordinance, the item was presented to the council for  its vote. Ward 2 Council Member and President Pro-tem Erica Baker-Norris made a motion to table the item. Ward 5 Council Member Todd Rauch seconded that motion and the role was called. Ward 1 Council Member George Allen voted nay, Baker-Norris voted yea, Ward 3 Council Member Robert Lofton voted yea, Rauch voted yea and Council President and Ward 4 Council Member Eddie Smith also voted yea. The motion to table the ordinance passed 4 to 1.

At the end of the meeting, Smith thanked the citizens that took the time to speak and said that they are listening. “I think tonight we saw a true form of democracy. I can tell you that when we came here, our plan was not to have this thing tabled,” Smith said. “So we are listening.”

He asked that those who requested that it be tabled to not ‘go missing’ now that it has been tabled.

“If we are going to do this and gonna do it how, as you as landlords, want it to be done, then we have to have input.”

 He stressed that tabling the ordinance does not mean that it will simply go away.

“It is not going to go away,” Smith said. “There has got to be a way to monitor the number of rental properties that we have … and we don’t know what we have … we need to find out.”

Smith finished by saying, “Let’s get together and let’s get it fixed.”

In other business:

– The council approved a request from Opelika First Baptist for a Back to School – Fall Kick-Off Event on Aug. 8.

– The council approved a request from Opelika Main Street for 1st Ave Block Parties on Sept. 18 and Dec. 11.

– The council held a Public Hearing for a Project Agreement with Hanwha Cimarron, LLC. After the public hearing, the council voted to approve the agreement.

– The council approved a request for a refund of occupational license fees for Ecological Insulation.

– The council approved a resolution to accept a donation and a proposal from GOVRED Technology, Inc. for an Apex Officer Training Simulator for the OPD.

– The council approved an agreement with Mark Foster Co. for police and fire promotional testing for the Human Resources Department.

– The council approved Tax abatements and exemptions for Hanwha Cimarron, LLC.

– The council approved amendments to the CDBG 2020-2024 Consolidation Plan and the PY2019 Action Plan as well as the CDBG PY 2021 Action Plan.

– The council approved a grant application with ALDOT for an Industrial Access Road Grant.

– The council approved a resolution to grant access of an easement to Judson H. Salter, Jr., Anna S. Asbury, CJCF, LLC and Hayley Investments, LLC.

– The council approved a special appropriation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County.

– The council introduced an ordinance to authorize the exchange of real property to CJCF, LLC. This ordinance will be up for a vote during the next meeting to be held on Aug. 17.

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