JACKSONVILLLE — Jacksonville's City Council is contemplating regular inspections of rental properties, but the city's status as a renter-heavy college town could pose problems with that plan.

"It doesn't work if we have to do 1,000 inspections in one month over the summer," Mark Williams, the city's building inspector, told council members in a work session Monday.

The council devoted much of its Monday meeting at the Public Safety Complex to a discussion of yearly rental property inspections. So far, the idea is only in its early stages, with council members still looking at other cities' inspection regimes.

"The benefit to the tenant is obvious: safety, health, a clean place to live," said John Ashley, Gadsden's rental inspector.

Ashley told the council that Gadsden inspects rental properties once per year, unless they're occupied at the end of a year since the last inspection, in which case the inspection is put off until the apartment or house is vacant again.

The city charges $50 for an annual inspection. If a property fails inspection, Ashley said, the city will reinspect for free after the landlord has a chance to correct discrepancies. If a third inspection is needed, the fee is $15.

Ashley said he couldn't quote a figure for the exact cost to operate his office, though the fee covers most of the cost.

"I can tell you that it's fairly self sufficient," he said.

Ashley said getting landlords on board with inspections may be difficult, though he argued that property owners can benefit by having an inspection document that covers their liability if a renter gets injured in a house or apartment.

"It's like another insurance policy," he said.

Council members questioned how such a plan might work in Jacksonville. There are roughly 2,200 rental properties in the city, Williams said. Many of those are occupied by students, which could lead to a surge in the need for inspections in late summer.

The council didn't hold a vote on the matter.

"We're a long way from doing anything on this," said Mayor Johnny Smith.

In the regular meeting following the work session, the council held quick votes to approve sewer rehabilitation along Vann Street and agreed on a new job description for the position of fire chief.

Keith Kadle has been interim fire chief for the city for more than a year, following Wade Buckner's retirement. The mayor said the new description, modeled on those used in nearby cities, would mark the beginning of a search for a new chief.

Councilman Jimmy Harrell was the only council member absent from the meeting. City officials said Harrell, a state trooper, was at work helping the state get ready for the forecast Tuesday snow.

Smith announced that city offices wouldn't open until at least 11 a.m. Tuesday because of the winter weather. Asked if the city had a warming station, similar to areas available in other local cities, Smith said no. He said no one would be left in the cold; people who ask for help will likely be taken to a warming station in a neighboring town. He said the city should consider warming station plans for future storms.

"That's something that we really need to work on," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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