There was standing room only at City Hall last night as interested citizens and landlords filled the City Council meeting to learn more about a proposed landlord licensing program for the city.
Dan Hoff, chairman of the Rental Licensing & Inspection Program Task Force, presented the initial thoughts and suggestions of the task force to the mayor and common council.
Landlord licensing is designed to improve the overall condition of rental housing, provide financial incentives for landlords to comply, and to offer progressive strategies to encourage improvement of problem properties Hoff said.
Council member Tony Chiavacci said people have been asking the common council for years to put some type of program in place to require landlords to properly maintain their properties.
"This is not just purely an invention coming out of our minds," Chiavacci said during the meeting. "This is something that as you aptly put has been going on since 2003-04."
According to the task force presentation, a landlord licensing program has been recommended over the past decade by groups including the Lower Pennsylvania Avenue Committee, the Pennsylvania Avenue Task Force, the Arts and Culture Task Force and Main Street Business Roundtables.
City Council members put together the task force, made up of five local citizens who are in real estate and/or own rental properties, last spring when downtown Westminster residents complained about several rental properties and residents living in the units.
Hoff, who manages a 20-unit property in Westminster, said the task force's charge was not to decide if the city adopts a landlord licensing program but rather to create a program the city may choose to adopt should it decide to move forward with landlord licensing.
Hoff added that the program should be financially self-sufficient so as not to require taxpayer dollars. Also, he said that the task force worked to make the program so that it is not overly burdensome on the landlord.
According to the program as presented by the task force, the program would require rental properties to undergo an inspection that will result in the unit being assigned a Level 1-5 classification. The estimated cost of inspection is around $100 according to the presentation.
Level 1 classifications are troubled properties that exhibit repeated major violations and compliance issues with a landlord who is slow to respond. Level 1 properties will have to be inspected every year.
Level 5 properties are those rental units that receive no complaints and exhibit no issues. They will be inspected every five years.
Hoff said that the inspections would take about 30 minutes and inspectors would focus on cleanliness and sanitation, working appliances and equipment and safety. If a property fails to pass inspection in one area, the landlord will pay a nominal fee to have that particular area re-inspected at a later date.
The task force presented seven "non-negotiable" items that they suggest be required in the inspection.
- working smoke detectors
- GFI receptacles in kitchens, bathrooms
- restroom ventilation
- working plumbing
- functional heating/cooling systems (if A/C provided in house)
- discharge pipe on hot water heater
- no bed bug, pest or rodent infestations
The proposed program would be operated by one adminstrative support person assigned by the city. The inspections would be performed by contractors and an appeals process would be put in place.
The task force recommended that if the City Council adopts the program, that it go into effect Jan 1, 2013. Hoff said there are more than 3,000 rental units in Westminster so the task force recommended phasing in the initial inspections over a three year period.
Council member Dr. Robert Wack said that the Council is attempting to improve the city without putting too much on the shoulders of good landlords.
"Our hands have been forced by small group of bad actors who have just created problems over and over again," Wack said.
"We look forward to putting in place a program that not going to make everyone happy, but as close to making as many people happy as possible. I see this as a way to encourage investment in our properties, to spur economic development," Wack said.
Both the task force members and the City Council reiterated that this is a first draft of a proposed plan and there will be ample opportunities in the coming weeks for the community and landlords to weigh in. Assuming a landlord licensing program is adopted, here is a tentative timeline of events:
- Oct. 11 a presentation will be made to the Realtors Association (CCAR)
- Nov. 1 a presentation will be made to the Landlord Association (CCLA)
- Nov. 5 Mayor and Common Council public hearing at John Street Quarters
- Nov. 12 Mayor and Common Council will discuss and deliberate
- Dec. 1 program information will be distributed
- Jan. 1 the program will be implemented
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