December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria rental registry remains in debate stages

ELYRIA — City Council remains indecisive in implementing a rental registration and inspection program despite Mayor Holly Brinda backing the idea and some residents pleading for its creation.

The conversation is further muddied by landlords and property owners, who feel as if they are being targeted and labeled as slumlords as the city looks to shift the blame for the plummeting value of its housing stock. Another two-hour meeting was held Monday and opponents and proponents debated starting a registry.

The topic will be picked up in two weeks, which should give Council members time to consider the option of separating the registration portion of the program, said Councilman Tom Callahan, D-at large and chairman of the Community Development Committee.

“I think the only thing that was determined was we need more information,” he said.

It appears landlords and city officials alike have no qualms about the registration component, which would allow safety and health officials to know who owns a home in the case of an emergency. But allowing city inspectors to go into the private dwellings with a checklist in search of violations is another story.

A mother of two teenage children who moved to Elyria less than a year ago strongly urged Council members to pass a program that would include an interior inspection. Had it been in place when she was looking for a home, she said it may have caught problems she found after signing a lease.

“I though this was going to be a great place to raise my kids,” Christina Hoffman said of her home on Furnace Street.

But she said she spent several days without heat after the furnace went out. When repeated calls to her landlord went nowhere, Hoffman said she turned to Kevin Brubaker, senior manager in Building Department for help. Brubaker even gave her a space heater to use when temperatures dipped into the single digits. He was able to cite the owner for a property violation and get the heat back on.

“I signed a lease on Dec. 2, but didn’t move in for three weeks because the furnace wasn’t working, so when I made a call, it was not something no one knew about,” Hoffman said.

She was shaking and near tears as she spoke, telling Council members that she feared repercussions for speaking out.

Hoffman plans to use a protection program through the Elyria Municipal Court in which rent will go into an escrow account until additional repairs are made.

“We need to do something,” said Councilwoman Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward. “I’m just not sure what that something is. The bad landlords are not sitting in this room, so they are not helping us make this decision.”

However, City Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, said Hoffman’s story is more indicative of a program that is working. When Hoffman complained, the city’s Building Department did its job, he said.

“Compliant-driven is working,” he said.

According to Brubaker, the city has handled 503 valid complaints from tenant-occupied homes since April 2012. Fewer than 10 percent went to the level of prosecution, something Brubaker attributes to inspectors.

“The inspectors we have out there are doing the work,” he sad. “But I also think there are a lot of things we don’t know about. We don’t find them until after the fact, and it’s our belief we can change that with proactive inspections.”

Paul Drury, a resident and local Realtor, warned Council that a bureaucracy-laden inspection program would drive investors away.

“The Elyria real estate market rebounded after Lorain implemented their point-of-sale inspections,” he said of the new regulation that calls for code violations to be dealt with before properties can transfer.

“Now is not the time to create barriers to investment capital coming into this community,” he said to the applause of property owners.

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