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It's safety first for college town's student rentals.

In college towns all across the United States, students are crammed into many off-campus residences that are often substandard at best and hazardous at worst. City leaders in Fairmont, W.Va., home of Fairmont State College, instituted a Rental Registration Program which compels all rental property owners to register with the city and be placed on a schedule of inspections to determine compliance with building and occupancy codes.

The City of Fairmont has a population of 20,000. The college enrollment is about 6,100. Presently the college offers dormitory space for 500 students. Although basically a commuter school, approximately 1,000-2,000 students need off-campus housing.

The Ordinance

The Rental Registration ordinance applies to all rental dwelling units in the city except for those that are owner occupied, college run dormitories, and transient commercial properties such as motels. The terms of the ordinance are directed strongly toward public safety issues such as installing of smoke detectors, guaranteeing sound electrical wiring systems, and ensuring that the building itself is not in disrepair.

Each property owner is charged an inspection fee of $10.00 per year per unit with fee reductions provided for large apartment buildings. A certificate of use and occupancy is provided if the rental unit meets the standards set forth under the ordinance. City code enforcement officials have flexibility in issuing citations for code violations depending upon whether or not such violations affect the habitability or safety of the rental unit. They also have the authority to order the immediate vacancy of any dwelling where violates are discovered which pose an imminent threat to the health of the occupants.

According to City Manager Edwin J. Thorne, the registration program, which began this Summer, has the full support of the college. "Our purpose was not to put anyone out of the rental business," said Thorne," but rather to save on manpower costs by having the property owners come to the city regarding inspections, rather than incur more administrative costs for a a larger city inspection team to go to the landlords."

In the first months of the program, more than 200 rental property owners have registered their properties. In an unexpected windfall for the city, 62 new accounts have been added to the city's business & occupation tax rolls by landlords who derive income from the rentals. For the Spring 1992 semester, those property owners in compliance with the registration ordinance will be listed by the college students affairs office as being recommended housing for students.

For a copy of the Fairmont Rental Registration Ordinance contact NLC's Municipal Reference Service.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Small Cities & Towns; Fairmont, West Virginia
Author:Brookes, James
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 28, 1991
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