Owners of rental property in Beaufort would have to pay $100 for an inspection each time a new tenant occupies a unit, under a proposal from city staff.
Some think that would improve the quality and safety of rental housing; others say government has no business in such affairs.
The proposal, discussed briefly Tuesday at a City Council workshop, is still preliminary and met instant resistance from some officials.
"For the most part, it seems to me that it would be too much government involvement," councilman and Realtor Mike McFee said.
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McFee added that he worried inspections could make the city liable if something happened to a rental property or the person renting it.
As proposed, the requirement would apply to properties rented out for 30 days or more. England Enterprises Inc., a company already contracted to help enforce Beaufort's building codes, would conduct the inspections using a city-created checklist.
Beaufort would work with owners of apartment complexes to develop an agreement in which complex managers could conduct inspections based on the city criteria.
A draft of the checklist has more than 30 items, including:
If a property didn't pass the initial inspection, a $50 re-inspection would be required.
The process could be costly, especially for property owners with multiple rental units, said Susan Trogdon, property manager at Bundy Appraisal and Management.
Trogdon, who said she hasn't studied the proposal yet, said at first glance it seems unfair to impose a special fee on rental owners.
"It's almost like they're requiring a different standard for rental houses than owner-occupied homes," Trogdon said.
Greg Bennett, broker-in-charge at Exit Realty, said the city already has regulations to address problem properties.
"I think the city should just focus on what they're already obligated to do," Bennett said. "Why is the city getting involved in a contractual obligation between a private property owner and a private tenant?"
Beaufort planning director Libby Anderson that said during recent debates about where short-term rentals -- those less than 30 days -- should be allowed, many argued long-term rentals actually posed more safety and appearance concerns.
Council directed staff to take the inspection proposal to neighborhood associations, gather input and report back.
Almost half of the city's residences are rentals, council members said, citing U.S. Census data.Those who rent out their property are required to have a city business license, and Beaufort could use those applications to enforce "a degree of regulation and nuisance control" rather than additional inspections, McFee said.
"In a down economy, the last thing you need to do is hit people in the pocketbook," McFee said. "I don't think that's the motivation of staff, but I'm afraid people might interpret it that way."