SIDNEY – The Rental Registration Ad Hoc Committee – started in response to a rental registration program ordinance introduced to City Council on Nov. 28 – reviewed a staff-proposed alternative rental registration program at a meeting on Dec. 20.
After hearing concerns from the committee’s landlords from two previous meetings, the staff offered a program with two paths. The first path requires registration and fees for all units but not inspections, and the second path requires registration and inspections but no fees for either. Rentals that receive inspections would also receive an identification marker like a sticker and would be added to a list of certified rentals on the city’s website.
“This alternative program accomplishes similar goals to the originally proposed ordinance. We will be able to ensure safe housing to the citizens that rent in the community, collect important rental data such as identifying ownership and contact information, and using this data to identify rentals that are substandard,” the alternative program read. “Property owners who choose path one with no inspection will be thoroughly evaluated with our property maintenance code.”
Councilmember Jenny VanMatre asked Vacant Property Inspector Kyle Havenar to explain how landlords would be thoroughly evaluated without an inspection, and he said while they couldn’t inspect the interior of the property, they would scrutinize the exterior.
The committee’s landlords were appreciative of the flexibility and willingness of the staff to create an alternative program and mentioned a meeting that was held Monday night with many Sidney landlords to discuss the issues they have with the program.
Tom Echemann said one of the main reasons why Sidney’s landlords don’t agree with the program is because of the concept of “big government” and not wanting the government inside of their properties. Tim Gleason said they thought this would lead to more government intrusions and were concerned about why the city would inspect properties with no complaints. They also wanted landlords to be a part of any future discussions on rentals. Tom Martin said no one wanted fees or registration because their information is already listed on the Shelby County auditor’s website if anyone has complaints and asked why the program only pertains to the city and not the whole county. Andrew Spayde said the discussion included requests to establish a board of appeals with landlords on it for any discrepancies with inspections.
Havenar mentioned that the fees would have to be steeper if landlords chose the first path because the program would have to “pay for itself,” but he wasn’t sure what the fees would be yet and didn’t elaborate further.
Gleason suggested changing the second path’s requirement of inspections to add “with complaints” and delete the fees from the first path to make it more acceptable for landlords.
Law Director David Busick recommended looking at Franklin County’s rental registration form on the auditor’s website and suggested modeling Sidney’s off of it because it’s short and easy to fill out.
Councilmember Scott Roddy said he’s been approached by community members asking him why rentals aren’t inspected because they are a business, and all other businesses must be inspected. Echemann said he owned a graphics business and was never inspected besides the initial inspections.
The discussion then turned to tenant complaints. Martin said there should be more accessible data on the complaints, and Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth said her office has a spreadsheet documenting each complaint. The staff also said that if the city receives a complaint, the building inspector is allowed to inspect the interior of the property with the tenant’s permission, but the staff advises the tenants that if a critical violation is found then the building could be condemned, and the tenants would have to leave immediately. The landlords agreed that this method could be discouraging complaints.
The community development staff will prepare more details about the two paths included in the alternative program and what inspections would entail for the next meeting.
All committee members were present except Councilmember Steve Klingler.
The next Rental Registration Ad Hoc Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 4 p.m. in the council chambers.