FARMINGTON — The Farmington City Council could adopt a landmark housing code ordinance in the coming weeks.
The council will discuss whether to draft the ordinance at a work session Tuesday. The ordinance could deal exclusively with criminal activity, such as drug sales and prostitution, or it could be expanded to address housing safety and other conditions.
The ordinance, if drafted and adopted, would be Farmington's first to address housing code issues.
"It would give the city authority to remove blight and ensure people have safe, healthy housing conditions," said Bob Campbell, assistant city manager. "The downside is that it's another level of government, and there's a cost to the city and the taxpayers of implementing another level of government."
A housing code ordinance could also result in higher rental costs, he said.
"There could be housing in the community that some people can afford but that's not ideal," Campbell said. "If we go in and ask a landlord to fix something they might decide it's not worth the cost and that housing becomes unavailable, or they could raise the rent and people may not be able to afford it. There's a fine line. That all has to be weighed with the benefit to the community."
Jennifer Breakell, deputy city attorney, examined housing code ordinances from Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Belen and Bernalillo County after a request from the city council on July 16.
Rio Rancho's ordinance was the only one that addressed minimum standards for maintenance, appearance and conditions of residential and non-residential properties, Breakell said in an Aug. 12 memo to Mayor Tommy Roberts and the council.
Councilor Dan Darnell said he is waiting to study Breakell's findings and see what the other councilors think before forming an opinion.
"Let's not knee-jerk," Darnell said. "We need smaller government, not bigger government. I'm in a wait-and-see mode."
But Councilor Mary Fischer said a housing code has been needed in the community for decades.
"There are Farmington citizens living in such substandard housing conditions," she said. "Overcrowding, people living without electricity or working plumbing, progressive communities do things about it."
Fischer said she hopes her peers are ready to take decisive action.
"I think there are only a handful of offenders out there," she said. "The vast majority of landlords in Farmington are honorable people."
The issue lies in the lack of city housing policies and consequences for landlords who allow their properties to fall into disrepair, Fischer said.
"Farmington has always adopted a philosophy that if you don't talk about it, it doesn't exist," she said. "We've got so much stuff swept under the rug it looks like the Rockies. These things fester until they become a crisis."