Committee addresses questions, proposed ordinance changes

By Charlotte Caldwell - [email protected]

SIDNEY – The Rental Registration Ad Hoc Committee – started in response to a rental registration program ordinance introduced to City Council on Nov. 28 – discussed questions raised at the last meeting and proposed changes to the ordinance at a meeting on Dec. 13.

The same attendees of the last meeting were present with the addition of landlords Tom Martin, Tom Echemann and Tim Gleason.

The first question answered regarded registering a property that has shared ownership between two different landlords. The response from the community development staff was, “Registration of rentals that have a shared or partnership ownership would be viewed as unique and independent of properties owned individually; as such these properties would have to be registered independent of any other registration by the individuals in the partnership.”

The next question regarded the timing of inspections, and the staff said, “Inspection timing could be revised extending the initial inspection to the time at which it becomes unoccupied or a period of 12 months, whichever occurs first. Could also revise self-certification inspection be extended to every other year instead of yearly.”

For the question about establishing an appeal process, the staff said that the responsibilities of the Building Board of Appeals or the Citizen Peer Review Committee are consistent with the requirements of the rental registration program.

The landlords questioned the inspection of 15% of units in a complex and asked if the units could be scattered throughout the city. The response was, “The 15% rule applies to complexes based on the fact that the units in a complex were constructed at a similar time and are similar in design and layout. Using this we can extrapolate the conditions of the entire complex based on the sampling. There are too many variables to apply this same rule to properties that are scattered throughout the city.” Additionally, life-threatening issues could trigger more inspections, and the staff considered adjusting the legislation to require a rotation of the inspection of units.

Martin cited a couple of government departments that landlords must register their properties with already, including the water department, and questioned why there is a need for another registration program. The staff mentioned that many landlords keep the water bill in their names so there would be no way of knowing the information of each property.

In response to Echemann’s comment that he was under the assumption that the program is being implemented because there are unsafe rental properties, Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth said:

“There are unsafe properties, but we’re not going on the assumption or presumption that rental properties are, because they’re rentals, unsafe. The staff in community development, we’re not naïve. We are certainly aware that when people call me – because I’m the fair housing coordinator for the city of Sidney – I’m well aware that a large number of them, when they call me, they’re calling me because they received an eviction notice. They know they’re going to be leaving in the next couple of days and they want to get revenge on the landlord. But there are certain instances where the tenant either doesn’t care or doesn’t know what they need for their minimum safety.” She cited smoke detectors and a working furnace as examples of minimum safety standards. “And yes, there are times when a tenant is going to work against themselves and their own safety. That’s not a landlord’s issue, that’s the tenant’s issue.”

Gleason proposed the elimination of fees unless landlords don’t comply with the registration process and said that an inspection from a certified inspector shouldn’t be necessary unless there is an issue. Echemann suggested keeping a complaint-driven process rather than involving all landlords in a program.

“What we’ve heard from the community at large is that that’s not working,” Dulworth said about the complaint-driven process. She cited community forums about housing as the citizens who have complained about the current process. “The second thing is you say if that’s not working, give the inspector more teeth. That’s what the rental registration program is.”

Gleason asked if there would be more people who would come forward and complain with a new program, and Dulworth thought that they would. Gleason asked why they aren’t complaining currently.

“First of all, they don’t know who to complain to. The second reason is they are afraid of retribution from their landlord,” Dulworth said.

Martin mentioned his experience with the city of Troy, as he owns rentals there as well, and said their inspectors make it work by having open communication with landlords, specifically about problems on the outside of the properties, and they ask the landlords for a timeline on when it will be fixed. He said if the outside of the property is not managed, then the inside won’t be either.

About 10 people sat in on the meeting in the audience, and one audience member questioned the group after the meeting about why there is no time allotted for audience members to speak. Law Director David Busick directed him to the city clerk to submit any responses he had in writing, but the citizen voiced concerns that his responses would be avoided and not answered if he wrote them.

After the meeting, Dulworth wrote in an email the process of selecting the committee members after they took landlords’ contact information at the Nov. 28 council meeting.

“A total of seven landlords indicated that they were interested in serving on the ad hoc committee. Three council members volunteered, and four landlords were selected in order to keep the committee size manageable. Landlords were selected to represent various types – multi-family apartment complex; landlords with just a couple scattered single family/two family rentals; and landlords with a high number of rentals of a variety of types,” Dulworth said.

The next Rental Registration Ad Hoc Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 20, at 4 p.m. in the council chambers.

By Charlotte Caldwell

[email protected]

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.