Housing Code changes discussion from August 18, 2015 Iowa City City Council work session (PowerPoint presentation)

Memo to City Manager Tom Markus, Re: Housing Code enforcement changes to support neighborhood stabilization

Memo to City Manager Tom Markus, Re: Housing Code Amendments  

Housing Code Ordinance

10 things you should know about the housing code changes

University Impact Area map

Stepped up code enforcement map - University Impact Area


Questions have been raised by the public about the proposed amendments to the Iowa City Housing Code. As a reminder, the Iowa City Housing Code currently applies to all housing, not just rental properties. The City’s intent with the amendments is to clarify these provisions, in some instances expand for health and safety, and to educate residents about how the City enforces rental and owner-occupied violations where targeted enforcement occurs.

Who asked for these amendments to be made?  

The amendments are designed to meet the goals of the Iowa City Strategic Plan and address issues raised by residents who live in University Impact Area (see map). In the University Impact Areas, housing inspection staff will focus enforcement efforts on both rental and owner-occupied housing. The three neighborhoods most impacted are Northside, Goosetown and College Hill/Green. Based on current practice, potential housing code violations of owner-occupied homes outside this area will continue to be investigated only on a complaint basis. 

Aren’t there ordinances in place that prohibit the use of furniture on roofs and other surfaces above 30” without guardrails? 

We have an ordinance that prohibits the use and storage of indoor furniture outdoors. This ordinance amendment specially addresses the use of all types of furniture on roofs. 

Will paint color be regulated by this ordinance? 

No. This amendment states that “exterior painted surfaces will be required to be painted in a uniform, color consistent and complete fashion." We are looking to protect painted surfaces against decay, deterioration and to verify that painted surfaces are properly prepped and remain painted.

Who will enforce these standards? 

These standards will be enforced by current City enforcement staff. 

How does the City determine when a property needs to be painted? 

The primary reason we look at painting is to protect surfaces against decay and deterioration. There are many factors inspectors look at as it relates to peeling paint including amount and location of the painted surface. The amendments are a clarification of the expectations related to the repair of painted surfaces (Uniform, color consistent, complete and properly prepped). The City agrees that it’s difficult to achieve lasting painting results and that proper prep work is necessary. Our City inspectors have the knowledge and expertise in painting older wood sided houses and understand the time and effort required to achieve a quality painted surface. 

Why do we need screening of dumpsters on existing multi-family sites? Don’t we have ordinances in place to deal with litter already? 

Even with our existing ordinance and enforcement we continue to see issues with litter surrounding dumpsters. Enclosing dumpsters and recycling facilities will contain trash and debris in a controlled area and reduce the amount of nuisance litter scattered in a neighborhood. This requirement will be enacted in tandem with the anticipated changes in Iowa City’s solid waste ordinance, which will require additional dumpsters for the new recycling facilities required for all multi-family dwellings. 

Who determines when the storage of landscaping and construction material is a violation? 

The amendment reads that as it creates a SUBSTANTIAL interference with the use of the property that it shall not be permitted. The permanent storage of trash bags, landscaping, construction or compost material in areas visible from the street facing right of way is not permitted. City inspection staff will handle inspection and enforcement. 

How does the City plan to enforce the requirement for GFCI protected outlets and carbon monoxide detectors in all dwellings? 

If a property has a rental permit these items will be verified during its systematic rental inspection. If a property is owner-occupied it will only be verified upon alterations, repairs or additions requiring a building permit, or when the property is converted to rental requiring a rental permit. 

Why is the Housing Code being amended to include owner-occupied properties? 

The Housing Code enacted in the 1970s has always included owner-occupied properties. Because of a policy change regarding the additional inspection of the exterior of all properties located in the University Impact Areas we chose to remind the Council in the memo that owner-occupied properties are also regulated by the Housing Code. 

The proposed amendments will require work that is burdensome from a cost standpoint. Will the City be providing any financial assistance? 

Financial assistance will be available. The City has available CDBG/HOME & GRIP funds available to low- to moderate-income property owners. Additionally the City allocated $150,000 in the FY 2016 for a University Impact Area Façade Improvement Program. While details have not been finalized we expect these funds to be used to address these issues. The FY 2017 budget has a request for another $100,000 for this program. 

The new fencing amendments seem to exceed any past requirements and focus mainly on cosmetic appearances. Why have these amendments been proposed? 

The amendments do not “exceed any past requirements” and are more of a clarification of the current Housing Code requirements.  Currently the ordinance reads that every fence shall be maintained in a good state of repair and shall comply with the Iowa City zoning ordinance.  As amended the code would read: Fences, screening and retaining walls shall be maintained in a safe, structurally sound manner and shall comply with the Iowa City zoning ordinance. All wood or painted surfaces shall be painted OR stained in a uniform, color consistent and complete fashion. The amendments provide clarity for what the expectations are to meet the original “good state of repair” part of the Housing Code. 

Won’t the Housing Code Amendments have the unintended consequence of increasing demand for siding replacement? 

It is our experience that there are many factors property owners use in determining whether or not to do siding replacement. Since these amendments are more clarifications than major changes, we do not anticipate the clarified regulations to have a greater impact on when people choose to replace siding. In regards to historic properties, the City feels the proposed amendments will help us deal more effectively with cases where the “demolition by neglect” of historic properties is suspected. 

Why haven’t we heard about these changes before now? 

The proactive neighborhood enforcement of the Housing Code is NOT citywide and is only in the University impacted neighborhoods located close to downtown.   The general framework for proposed amendments and the proactive code enforcement program for University Impact Areas were brought before the Iowa City Council on August 18, 2015 and City staff was instructed to proceed. A draft of the proposed amendments was shared with the Neighborhood Council on September 9, 2015. Minor clarifications were included from Neighborhood association members at that meeting. A draft of the proposed amendments was shared with the Greater Iowa City Apartment Owners Association on September 22, 2015. Further limited conversation took place with members of the Northside neighborhood at the October 6, 2015 City Council meeting. Because of the overwhelming support we received from those key stakeholders and the limited nature of the changes we did not seek more input. Our intention as outlined in our presentation to the City Council on August 18 is to ramp up our communication with neighborhoods through the Nextdoor social media site and through neighborhood listening posts through the University impacted neighborhoods. 


If you have additional questions please contact Stan Laverman, Senior Housing Inspector at or by phone at 319-356-5135.