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Wausau mulls new rental inspection program in “blighted” areas

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By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — City officials are considering a proposed rental inspection program for a limited area in Wausau where the highest property code violations occur in the city.

The proposal would create an approximate 15- to 20-block area in which city staff would work with landlords and tenants to inspect residential rental properties in the Wausau neighborhood. State law limits inspections to once every five years.

This is not the first attempt by city officials to control rental properties in Wausau. In November 2013, the city adopted a rental licensing and inspection program that resulted in more than 1,000 inspections over a two-year span. But state legislation in 2015 and 2016 eliminated city-wide rental licensing, as well as the ability for city officials to perform rental inspections.

Then in 2017, Wisconsin Act 317 limited broad rental inspection programs as a whole.

But city officials say an inspection program is needed to ensure decent, safe, sanitary living environments for residents. Over the past several years, officials have found that property maintenance is a top concern for residents, according to a memo from Chief Inspector and Zoning Administrator William Hebert. Under the new proposal city officials would regularly inspect rental units within an area to be designated by the council by resolution. After the initial inspection, and any re-inspection if necessary, subsequent inspection would only occur within the parameters established by state statute. The inspection would be arranged directly between the tenant and city officials.

Since Wausau’s rental inspection program stopped in April 2016, many interior and exterior issues have been discovered in the city, Hebert wrote.

When the idea was first floated in April 2019, city officials had not yet determined which areas in the city would be targeted in the proposed program, which aims to include designated districts with “evidence of blight, high rates of building code complaints or violations, deteriorating property values, or increases in single-family home conversions to rental units,” according to city documents. But city documents now outline a “neighborhood stabilization and enhancement district” on the city’s east side, just north of Bridge Street and stretching to East Wausau Avenue.

Source: City of Wausau information packet obtained Sept. 16, 2019

“We propose an approximate 15 – 20 block area that over the course of several months’ city staff can work with landlords and tenants to inspect both the interior and exterior of residential rental properties,” Hebert said in his memo. “By limiting the area we are hopeful to make a difference in the district while enabling staff to move on to another area”

The proposed ordinance, which creates a single district to focus efforts on interior housing conditions for tenants, would require rental owners to register with the city’s Division of Inspection and Zoning within 30 days of purchasing a property and pay a one-time registration fee of $10. Regular inspections would ensue and will incur a fee, the amount of which was not clear in city documents.

The city’s public health and safety committee on Monday was set to review the proposal, which is subject to full council approval. Review the packet here.

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