LARAMIE — Nearly a year after its approval, Laramie City Council has taken steps to begin enforcing a new rental housing ordinance starting Jan. 1, 2023, with slight modifications.
The ordinance outlines a set of minimum habitability standards for rental housing properties within the city, such as containing carbon monoxide alarms, functioning basic appliances and the absence of mold.
If landlords fail to follow these requirements, the ordinance outlines a complaint system in which tenants can report issues to the city manager’s office, who then can assess the validity of the complaint and set a deadline for necessary repairs.
The latest updates to the ordinance were made to comply with the ruling of Albany County 2nd Judicial District Judge Tori Kricken, who classifies the ordinance’s enforcement procedures as unconstitutionally vague in response to a lawsuit brought against the city by Bell Leasing LLC, a local rental company.
The judge also confirmed in her ruling that the city does have the authority to create such an ordinance.
This means that the ordinance will still go into effect as intended by the city, with added clarifications that will prevent misinterpretations of the law.
“It is not to change the meat of the ordinance … but to make more clear the substance of how this ordinance works,” City Attorney Robert Southard said during a city council meeting last Tuesday.
The goal of the ordinance is to provide a method of communication and mediation between landlords and tenants and ideally avoid action in the courtroom, Southard said.
Still, the city ordinance calls for municipal court proceedings if the landlord or property manager fails to make the necessary updates to a property after receiving a notice from the city manager’s office.
Last week’s updates to the ordinance include the clarification that municipal court proceedings would be criminal rather than civil in nature, Southard said.
The amendment also changes the terminology of the city manager’s action from an “order” to a “notice,” and clarifies that court proceedings would be about failure to follow the standards outlined in the ordinance.
City council member Sharon Cumbie said there was some confusion whether or not the ordinance requires landlords to hire a property manager to manage potential complaints.
The ordinance requires the person designated to manage potential complaints reside in Wyoming within 60 miles of Laramie, but this person could be a landlord or someone else, Southard said.
The amendment to the ordinance passed with yes votes from each of the council members except for Bryan Shuster, who voted against it.
The amendments will be finalized after undergoing two additional readings.
Council member Pat Gabriel said he’s heard comments from constituents about the difficulty of resolving issues with landlords using the state’s civil court system and other messages of support for the city ordinance.
“I think it’s really important that we all listen to everyone in our community. Since we have this high student population, I think the rental housing vote is going to be very important,” he said. “I encourage people to let us know on second and third (readings) if this passes tonight.”
There were no public comments on the changes during the first reading.
This story was published on Nov. 23, 2022.