Three unrelated section of housing code struck down

Muncie neighborhood activists plan on researching more ways to clean up off-campus residential areas after City Council adopted a less restrictive version of the housing code bill Monday.

City Council passed the ordinance 6-3 after the three-unrelated rule was removed and the bill was amended.

The measure necessitates a written tenancy agreement for landlords and renters and increases square footage requirements in rental units.

The amendments establish a five-man board to hear variances.

Eric Kelly, a professor of urban planning at Ball State University, spoke before the council and said that the ordinance would be weak without the three-unrelated rule. He also said he agreed that the rule would be hard to enforce.

"There is no enforcement officer that wants to go door to door asking for birth certificates and marriage licenses," Kelly said. "But on the other hand, if you take that part of the bill out, it is a pretty weak bill."

Kelly suggested the council amend the bill to require landlord registration, charge landlords inspection fees, and place density limits on neighborhoods not yet dominated by rental housing.

Bill Morgan, co-vice president of the Normal City-Riverside Neighborhood Association, said the association plans on researching Kelly's suggestions and thinking of future proposals to clean up the areas surrounding campus.

The association will also work to ensure that the newly passed ordinance is enforced along with the old rules, Morgan said.

He said he believed the three-unrelated rule was removed because of a recent Indiana Court of Appeals ruling that declared a similar Bloomington ordinance unconstitutional.

"We are generally pleased," Morgan said. "We would've loved to have had the three-unrelated rule, but that obviously wasn't going to happen with the recent court ruling."

Gary Rice, president of the East-Central Indiana Apartment Association, said he was happy the three-unrelated rule was dropped and supported the rest of the ordinance.

He also said he supported the new housing board and was pleased the ordinance included an outline of the appeals process.

Not everyone was satisfied with the passage of the bill though.

Muncie Attorney Casey Cloyd said the city should enforce existing codes before creating "another layer of government."

Cloyd, who said he was representing some Muncie landlords, said the tenancy agreement rule violates state law, which permits oral leases.

The council limited public input before taking action. Monty Murpy said the public had plenty of time to debate the ordinance in four previous meetings.

Council members James P. Carey, Jack Isenbarger and Bruce Weimer voted against the bill. President William Shroyer and council members Mary Jo Barton, Chuck Leonard, Sam Marshall, Monty Murphy and David Taylor voted in favor of the ordinance.

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