Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said he was fine with putting the proposal on hold to gather more input from local landlords and to research whether other cities across the nation have successfully adopted similar requirements.
Krizaj said that he is unaware of any other Minnesota city requiring landlords to insure their buildings. He noted that Minneapolis has more than 23,000 licensed rental properties, and city officials there said they likely wouldn’t have adequate staff to enforce or administer such a requirement. However, Krizaj expressed confidence Duluth could handle the added burden.
He explained that in relatively rare circumstances when landlords don’t have insurance and they have a fire, they are sometimes unable to make needed repairs. As a result, buildings are condemned, tenants may be permanently displaced, and the fire-damaged building sits empty, sometimes attracting squatters and other problem behavior.
At a time when rental housing is in tight supply, especially affordable rentals, Krizaj said Duluth must do what it can to keep units in play.
Krizaj said that proper insurance would provide landlords with the necessary funds to execute repairs in the event of a fire or would at least cover the cost of demolishing a blighted structure — and expense which sometimes falls on the city at present.
“I’m liking the spirit of this,” said 3rd District Councilor Roz Randorf, suggesting that insurance should be considered a cost of a landlord doing business in the city
“Part of that insurance is protecting the occupants inside, as well,” she said. “And I don’t think it should be on the backs of the taxpayers to do cleanup when there’s a fire. I think that should be the responsibility of the owner of that property.”
At large Councilor Zack Filipovich praised the proposed ordinance, saying: “I think it’s going to help create a level playing field for landlords here in the city of Duluth. Because we have a number of absentee landlords who quite frankly might not keep up their property to the standard that we should like to see and that would be good for people to live in.”
But 4th District Councilor Renee Van Nett expressed concern that the added costs of insurance could be pushed along to vulnerable renters who are barely getting by as is and could lead to some tenant displacement.
Krizaj acknowledged Van Nett’s point, saying: “I think that is a real concern. I can’t totally speak for the landlords, but I expect if there is an increased cost, most likely that would be pushed down to the tenants as part of their monthly rental costs. So, it definitely is a concern of ours, but we’re trying to weigh the cost-benefits of not losing an entire building if there is a catastrophic fire.”