Rental registry debate continues

City council continues to debate the mayor’s proposed rental registry program attempting to keep housing stock at a premium and protect tenants without being too costly and intrusive to landlords.

NORTH ROYALTON – Council discussed a proposed rental registry at length, a tool advocates say is designed to prevent these properties from becoming blight and ensure they are safe for tenants, though the program’s costs and inspections were a sticking point for one councilman.

This topic first began when Mayor Bob Stefanik announced the city would be employing several tactics to combat and prevent residential and commercial property disrepair by stepping up drive-by inspections, instituting the rental registry requiring landlords to submit to interior and exterior inspections, and upgrading software to streamline and better improve enforcement.

Following what many cities have instituted, the building department drafted legislation for the rental registry, which has not been voted on. If approved, these properties would eventually be subject to interior and exterior inspections and have to abide by state code. These would include one-, two- and three-family units and condos.

For instance, the state requires new homes have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

City officials have said this program is not a money maker, but is instead about maintaining property values of the adjacent homes not only ensuring they are properly maintained but also ensuring these properties are safe for the tenants who move in.

Staff will need to sort through the number of rental properties listed through the county, 79, which Community Development Director Tom Jordan said may not be current. Initially, the city will need landlord and tenant consent to perform interior inspections. In severe, rare cases where permission is denied, the city would have to seek a warrant for probable cause.

The building department was proposing the yearly rental registry fee of $100 per unit but reduced it to $75 for one-, two- and three-family dwellings and $50 for condo rentals.

Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell, building and building codes chairman, said he had qualms with a per unit fee and felt more comfortable if landlords with multiple units in a structure be charged per structure rather than per unit.

“This is too expensive for me. We want rentals kept up, but we could price ourselves out. And if we are going to charge a fee every year, the inspector better be there every year,” he said. “People have said, ‘I don’t like you coming into my home.’”

Jordan said the city’s fee proposal is very reasonable and that 95 percent of communities in the county have some form of rental registry. Parma charges $150, Broadview Heights is similarly priced to North Royalton and Euclid is $200, he said.

Setting up the registry and the yearly paperwork will take time, Jordan said, and the building department is simply trying to recoup costs.

As a rudimentary estimate, if the city finds there are actually only 50 rentals, at $50 each this would only generate $2,500.

“As soon as an inspector walks out the door, we’ve already spent $50. The city rezoned a significant amount of properties from residential to commercial and as a result, those owners are not investing. They are allowing these very visible properties to fall into disrepair. If you don’t chase minimum standards, abuses will occur, and we don’t want those to continue,” Jordan said.

Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw said blight is too expensive.

“How much lower can we really go? The price of blight will cost taxpayer dollars. Blight is a big issue. I fully support what the mayor and building department are doing to try and combat this. I want to make sure the building department can operate effectively and implement this to keep residents safe too,” he said.

As for inspections, Jordan said the first year would be getting the database created, correcting county mistakes.

“Until I get a handle on it, I won’t be performing any inspections on the premises unless I have a complaint,” he said.

Assistant Law Director Donna Vozar reminded council that though inspections are an important component, the real focus of this is the registry itself and safety.

“(It’s) Getting the landlord to acknowledge responsibility to us, as well as the tenant. More importantly, it allows us to be sure safety is being dealt with, that there are smoke detectors. A lot of cities are doing this after a fire. We are trying to be proactive in letting the landlord know what their obligation is,” she said.

Council President Larry Antoskiewicz, a member of building and building codes, said it might be best to start slow and work up.

“For me, it’s new ground. I like to tread lower, make it reasonable, give everyone an opportunity to adjust to what we are doing rather than bringing it on them at once,” he said. “We can always adjust what we are doing.”

Council and the building department agreed to $50 for one-family structures and condos, $75 for two-family dwellings and $100 for three family. Those who have rentals but are not renting them out could apply for an exemption. No vote was taken.

Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris, vice chair of building, is a landlord with one rental property in North Royalton and one in Berea. He said this is good for the community.

“It keeps the property values up and makes sure rentals are safe and up to code with smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors,” he said.

Stefanik said the registry will benefit both the city and renters.

“The fees basically recoup our cost for field inspections, follow ups, paperwork and associated costs. We’re protecting our housing stock obviously, but also protecting people renting. We’re asking no more out of the landlords than we are people that build new homes in North Royalton, following the Ohio Revised Code,” he said.

Jordan is expected to review the costs of implementing the program with council at the next building and building codes at 6 p.m. on May 17.

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