Do you know if your apartment is safe?

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown

As Courtney Ranum knows, not all rental property in Brookings is always up to code.

“The apartment I lived in last year didn’t have any heat until mid-Febuary,” said Ranum, a senior apparel merchandizing major. “The landlord just kept telling us that it was fine.”

Kathy Vrchota, code enforcement officer for Brookings, said most landlord violations fall under three areas.

“Most regulations for rental property are about issues like zoning, parking and fire safety,” she said.

Chapter 22 of the Brookings City Code of Ordinances explains the ordinances relating to rental dwelling units. Section 22-371 states a rental dwelling unit is defined as a area of one or more rooms that includes a living room, sleeping area, separate eating area containing a sink, operational cooking and refrigeration appliances and separate bathroom containing a water closet, lavatory and a bathtub or shower.

“Usually we really don’t have too many issues with the property owners,” Vrchota said. “If we find something wrong they usually fix it right away.”

Property owners violating the ordinances are subject to penalties, according to Section 22-375. The city can revoke that landlord’s license if the violation directly affects the health, safety or welfare of the building’s occupants.

One standard for rental property is that every rental home must have a properly installed and maintained smoke detector. One detector is required on each floor where sleeping occurs.

Proper exits are another requirement for rental properties. Every bedroom and living area must have an unobstructed door or stairway as a primary means of escape.

“The first apartment I lived in my sophomore year I’m pretty sure was not a legal apartment,” said Ranum. “It was in a basement and the only windows we had were small windows and one had plywood over it on the outside. If there was a fire, it would be impossible to get out.”

Sleeping rooms need a second means of escape or alternative protection, as well. Windows must be at least 24 inches by 20 inches and be at a height of no more than 48 inches above the floor. Window wells with a vertical depth of more than 48 inches require a permanently affixed ladder, platform or equivalent rigid object that are accessible with the window. Sleeping rooms in the basement are the only exception to this code.

Even though landlords must abide by many codes, there as some things like recycling requirements that are not found in the city ordinances.

“Recycling is not required to be provided to tenants in apartment buildings,” said Bob McGrath, solid waste director for the city of Brookings. “It is up to the landlord whether or not they want to provide it to their tenants. However, every other type of single-family home in Brookings is provided with recycling.”

These types of residences include houses, mobile homes and duplexes.

“There is no extra charge for recycling,” said Michael Cook, of Cook’s Wastepaper and Recycling. “It just depends on whether the landlord requests it or not.”

Parking is the last major ordinance for property owners. Section 22-434 reads that each dwelling unit shall meet the on-premises parking requirements applicable at the time it was established. Tandem parking is permitted and parking spaces and access thereto must meet architectural graphic standards established by the American Institute of Architects.

If the tenant of a rental property wants to report an issue with their residence, they may call the Division of Consumer Protection at 1-800-300-1986 or Kathy Vrchota at (605) 692-6281 with questions about ordinances.

To see a full list of the Brookings Code of Ordinances, visit the city of Brookings’ Web site at