Local landlords gathered Wednesday at Central Missouri Community Action for the first time.
It won't be the last time, members of CMCA's Safe and Affordable Housing Task Force hope.
"I think this was a great way to get the conversation going," task force leader Kellie Pontius said. "It's going to be the first of many meetings we have."
The SAHTC was formed to address a number of issues surrounding housing in Callaway County, such as unsafe rental properties and residents' difficulties in finding available units. Two previous forums focused on the needs and problems tenants perceive with renting in the area, along with renter rights.
Jeffrey Stone, a Fulton City Council member, said he joined the task force after a renter spoke to the council about the unsafe conditions she faced. The woman felt she had no recourse.
"Renters here don't have a whole lot of choice," said Linda Roots, a landlord also there on behalf of Court Street United Methodist Church. "The lower income you are, the less choice you have. And if you complain about it, you get kicked out."
The task force called the landlord meeting in hopes of including them in building solutions to housing issues.
"The city doesn't really want to take this on," Stone said. "We don't want to just hand something down."
Two potential solutions were up for discussion during Wednesday's meeting: Creating a database of landlords in the county and making a rental safety checklist for landlords and tenants.
The database would include information about the number of units each landlord has and what restrictions are in place — for example, do they allow pets? People with criminal records? Do they require a certain credit score?
As Pontius pointed out, due to the lower number of open units — 99 percent of rental units in Fulton were occupied at last count, Stone said — having a centralized resource for finding reputable landlords could be invaluable.
The safety checklist was an idea introduced after a Fulton City Council proposal to require inspections of rental units received a negative reaction from local landlords. It's intended as a tool for landlords and tenants to use together during walk-throughs, Pontius said.
Both ideas received skeptical responses from the 10 or so landlords present.
"I understand why you're having the task force, but the good landlords don't need it," Dana Dungan said.
She and husband Jeff Dungan have a combined 50 years of experience as landlords.
Dana pointed out that reputable landlords often already have a checklist they review with prospective tenants; disreputable ones just don't care.
"There are places I've seen I wouldn't put a dog in, but the tenants are paying rent there," Jeff said.
He added while he has no problem with the idea of rental inspections (aside from paying for them), requiring less-reputable landlords to fix up shabby units might result in them raising prices and pricing out the poorest renters.
Penny Schroer, one of three representatives from Mid-Missouri Property Management, said the company also gives tenants a form they can use to indicate potential problems with a unit at move-in.
Landlords were also wary of the proposed landlord database.
"I think most people don't want their information out there," said Doc Kritzer, who owns units in Callaway County and Columbia.
He and some other landlords have deliberately kept their contact info off real estate websites. Having new tenants find them through word-of-mouth helps cut down on unfavorable applicants.
The landlords did have one suggestion to offer the city: Improving communication between landlords and the city utilities department.
Several landlords reported difficulties in getting the city to tell them whether utilities have been shut off at a particular unit. They've also met resistance when trying to get utilities turned over to them when a tenant vanishes without warning, they said.
"Someone bailed on us in January and the city told us, 'You can't have the utilities put back into your name because they didn't sign out,'" Dana said. "I just wanted to make sure the pipes didn't freeze."
Stone promised to look into the issue.
Pontius also brought up another problem tenants raised: Having difficulty finding a landlord who will rent to them due to past issues, such as a long-ago misdemeanor conviction or a poor credit score.
The landlords said they do take the occasional risk on a tenant, and they often regret it.
"There's some people we take a chance on, and it's 50-50 that it works out," Schroer said. "Sometimes they're fine, and sometimes it's $4,000 or $5,000 to get the placed cleaned up after they leave."
Even those whose background checks and credit reports come back clean sometimes prove difficult.
"We had one tenant take a shotgun and shoot through the roof," LaRae Clark said.
Dana said she currently has three tenants avoiding her because they're behind on rent.
As Stone pointed out, though, even people who have a questionable past need somewhere to live. Inmates are regularly discharged from the Fulton State Hospital and prison facilities into Fulton.
"After 16 years, I've given lots of people chances to prove they've changed and they don't," landlord Trent Willenburg said. "There's landlords in this town that'll rent to just about anyone if they have cash in hand, but they're not getting a good place."
The next planned task force event is a housing expo, slated for 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Callaway Electric Cooperative. It is open to landlords and tenants and will include resources for both, Pontius said.