December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria considers rental registry program

ELYRIA — City leaders think a rental licensing program that includes exterior and interior inspections is the only way to go if any real change to the city’s housing stock is to take hold.

City officials plan to recommend to City Council a program that includes per-unit registration fees and fines for not complying with property registration. It likely will be seen as a less-than-popular program among rental property owners in the city, but it is a necessary step to take, Mayor Holly Brinda said.

“If we want to truly make a positive difference in the housing stock, this is the direction to go,” she said. “We are never going to make everyone happy. So if we are going to implement something, we have to implement it in a way that truly makes a difference.”

The program that will be presented as the best option calls for inspections every three years and a fee ranging between $20 and $100 per unit per year depending on the number of units. Fees for non-compliance would be added to the tax duplicate and increase as time out of compliance grows.

The option is the most stringent of three options that will be presented to Council members Monday night during a joint Community Development and Finance Committee meeting.

The other two options include a status-quo stance and a less-stringent program that would require exterior-only inspections and a more modest fee schedule.

The conversation about whether Elyria should start a rental registration program has started and stopped many times in the past two years. The main reason: Council members can’t get on the same page on a plan to approve.

Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, said he understands the need for exterior inspections but is less inclined to agree to a program calling for inspectors to go through the inside of a rental property.

The debatable points of a rental registration program are of great interest to the Lake Erie Landlord Association. The group, with about 500 landlords in its membership, including 40 percent with properties in Elyria, has been engaged in the conversation from the beginning.

Chuck Holtzman, who is on the organization’s legislative committee, has said the major concern of such a program would be good property owners being penalized for the actions of a few problem landlords.

Instead of creating a new layer of bureaucracy, Holtzman said the city should enforce existing codes and laws

However, Kevin Brubaker, senior official in the Elyria Building Department, said he has seen firsthand how a rental registration program could help the city’s housing stock. In recent weeks at the urging of Council, he has researched what other cities do and how they make such programs work.

Brubaker said pushing for exterior and interior inspections should not be seen as a negative.

“If the intent of the program is to promote life, health and safety for potential tenants and occupants of rental units, as per the Property Maintenance Code, we feel the exterior inspection only approach would not accomplish this and merely be superficial,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.