Anchorage

Anchorage landlord-tenant law update includes bigger fines for unsanitary living conditions

Anchorage landlords who fail to exterminate a bedbug infestation or tenants who allow garbage to pile up could now face substantially higher fines under an ordinance approved by the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night.

The Assembly unanimously approved the ordinance, which updates the city's local landlord-tenant laws for the first time in nearly four decades. Most of the changes deal with language dating back to the 1970s.

"Rat" or "vermin," for example, sprinkled in throughout the old regulations, have been replaced with the words "rodent" or "infestation" to capture situations like bedbugs, said city development director Chris Schutte.  

But there's other more substantive changes, such as a section that says landlords also can't demand increased rent from tenants in retaliation to a complaint. Another new section bans cooking in dorm rooms, except in microwaves or other devices without exposed hot surfaces or flames.

More than a year ago, the city ombudsman's office launched an effort to upgrade local housing occupancy and maintenance codes after fielding complaints from callers about issues between landlords and tenants.

The ordinance was first introduced in April. Since then, the city's code enforcement has put together a detailed and far more punitive fine schedule. Since the 1970s, anyone who violated local housing and occupancy code has faced only a $75 fine.

Now, as well as generally higher fines, penalties will accelerate for multiple or ongoing violations, which officials say is aimed at encouraging both landlords and tenants to follow the rules.

Using lead-based paint in an apartment, for example, could mean a $500 fine plus administrative costs for a first offense in a calendar year. A violation of that rule, which applies to tenants and landlords, would rise to $1,000 for a second offense and $2,500 after that.

Under the new ordinance, a landlord's failure to deal with a rodent or bug infestation can lead to a $300 fine for a first offense in a calendar year. The ordinance says landlords are responsible for the extermination, unless the infestation can be linked to a tenant's failure to report it, the ordinance says. Both sides share the responsibility for keeping the building free of rodents and insects, officials said.

A separate new section outlines fees for excessive violations of the regulations. The city can assess inspection fees if three or more notices are given to the same property owner or tenant within a year — as long as the problem wasn't fixed and the city issued warnings.

City ombudsman Darrel Hess said the fine schedule is still well below what other cities have on the books.

"The goal isn't fines, the goal is compliance," Hess said. 

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.

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