ELYRIA — There are two issues at hand when it comes to compiling a listing of rental properties in the city and finding a way to make sure they are safe for renting residents — registration and inspection.
City Council can’t come to a consensus on either.
So, for the third time, the discussion into the establishment of a rental registration program has been tabled. In two weeks, the conversation will resume with Council members asking for — yet again — more information.
Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, who also said during the meeting that he is a landlord, wants to know from the city’s Law and Building departments if the current compliant-driven way things are done is working better than perceived at catching problem landlords and properties.
“Registration, I am for, but I don’t know if inspection is the way to go,” Lotko said. “I’m not sure this is the right way to go about this because we want people to invest in the community and this may do the opposite.”
Lotko supporting landlords when he is one had some wondering if he can be objective in the conversation.
“It sounds like a conflict of interest to me, if you are a councilperson and landlord,” said resident George Crossan. “You are making a decision about your own business.”
The objections of the Lake Erie Landlord Association were geared toward the discriminatory nature of the program. It doesn’t address problem homes that are owner-occupied.
“As property owners, landlords have a vested interest in the well-being of Elyria because its our investment,” Lotko said. “Yet, we are being unjustly targeted when Elyria is not doing is job by enforcing existing building codes, following up on complaints, underfunding and understaffing the department.”
Law Director Scott Serazin said it was legal for Lotko to vote on any legislation linked to rental registration. The term was criticized as having a bad connotation so the program is being eyed as the residential rental dwelling licensing program — just as councilmembers can vote on driving laws and be drivers.
However, at least one councilmember said it’s not just the legal perspective the city has to be mindful of when making a decision.
“We are told it is legal, but we should also look at what’s ethical,” said Councilwoman Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward.
Mitchell, who said she receives at least one to two calls every month from residents about rundown homes in the ward, favors starting a program
“We are not trying to punish anyone, but these pictures show us that something is not working,” Mitchell said waving a packet of photos city inspectors recently took while walking through rental homes after tenants called to complain. “No one should have to live like this. I’m not trying to punish anyone, but I think everyone should live in a safe home.”
The photos show what inspectors face — two inches of raw sewage in a basement, a broken, feces-filled toilet, crudely repaired furnaces and water heaters and porches with 2-foot-wide holes.
“The intent of the program would not be to sock property owners with everything they can find. But inspectors would be looking at life safety issues,” said Kevin Brubaker, senior manager of the Building Department.
The landlords and property owners in the audience did not find the photos indicative of any conditions they have encountered.
“I’ve been a Realtor for 34 years and have never seen a property like that,” said Robert Demby of Demby Realty.
Demby said the Elyria Municipal Court magistrate would never allow a property owner to leave a courtroom unpunished if his home was in such deplorable condition.
“We are held to a higher standard because we are landlords,” he said.
Mayor Holly Brinda admits the Building Department was slashed in years prior to her election, but since September 2012, steps have been taken to beef up the department’s inspectors from four to eight. She wants to see the program put into place with a combination of both exterior and interior inspections.
“We have already allocated the resources to execute this,” Brinda said. “The housing stock in the city is at a critical point. We have done a lot to improve neighborhoods by getting rid of vacant and blighted homes. The next logical step is to make sure the housing stock left is safe.”
Neighborhood block watch members have pushed a rental registration program. Holly Huff, head of the Furnace/Cascade Neighborhood Watch, said she could not operate a business in Elyria without stringent oversight and regulations.
“You are running a business next to my home, and I should not have to call the Building Department because you are running it into the ground,” Huff said.