July 31, 2013 - A proposed ordinance that would mandate the registration and inspection of residential rental units in Oxford Village sparked an age-old debate concerning property rights versus the public good at the July 23 council meeting.
"Although I appreciate and respect the need for some sort of inspection ordinance, I think this one is rather intrusive," said village President Tony Albensi. "It puts a lot of burden on property owners that do maintain their residences. I do, again, understand the need for some sort of ordinance, but I think this one is just too much."
"I completely disagree," said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. "I think we have some homes in the village that desperately need this. I have some friends who live in dumps, (places) that aren't fit for human habitation.
"This is what we need. Our police officers have gone into homes that do not have smoke detectors, they're wet, they don't have adequate fire escapes. These are things that we have to look at."
Council voted 4-1 to set aside the proposed ordinance and direct the village attorney to come back with a "softer version" for its consideration.
The proposed ordinance presented at last week's meeting was created to protect tenants by ensuring that rental units meet all applicable building, existing structure, fire, health, safety and zoning codes.
According to the proposed language, "no person shall lease, rent, occupy or otherwise allow a rental unit . . . to be occupied" unless the owner registers it with the village's building official and zoning department; an inspection is conducted; a valid certificate of compliance is issued; and all registration and inspection fees are paid in full.
In the absence of a complaint or other cause outlined in the proposed ordinance, residential rental units would be inspected once every three years. Certificates of compliance would be valid for three years.
The proposed annual registration fee is $15 per dwelling unit. The proposed inspection fee to obtain a certificate of compliance is $60 for the first unit and $30 for each additional unit on the premises.
If an inspection is initiated by a complaint and a violation is found, a $35 fee would be charged to the owner. If no violation is found, no inspection fee would be assessed.
If re-inspections are necessary after the initial inspection or an initial notice of deficiency, the first one is free, while the second one is $100 and every one after that is $200.
Under the proposed ordinance, if these inspection fees are not paid within 30 days of billing, the village has the option to suspend the certificate of compliance and require the tenant to vacate the premises.
Village Manager Joe Young explained that Dan Durham, the municipality's code enforcement officer, believes this ordinance "could be a useful tool to deal with some issues we've been having relative to rental properties that are not being maintained to the level they should be."
Young said the goal is to keep rental units in good shape in order to maintain property values in the village.
"We've needed this for a long time," Helmuth said. "These property owners are making a lot of money off these tenants and they're not putting the money back into the property."
'I'm not suggesting we don't need anything," Albensi said. "I'm suggesting this (ordinance) is too intrusive, in my opinion."
Albensi was particularly alarmed by language that would give the "enforcing officer," which is defined as the building official or a duly authorized representative, "the right to enter" a rental property "at any time" if there is an emergency.
"You're trying to tell me if I, as a landlord, don't want a code-enforcer to enter my (property), but they deem it an emergency, they have the right to enter my (property)? That's intrusive," Albensi said.
He was concerned about the rights of tenants as well.
"Me, as a tenant, I don't want the code-enforcer coming into my house unless I give them permission," Albensi said.
Again, Helmuth disagreed.
She said if there's an emergency, such as a natural gas leak, and there are four families living in four rental units, "those other three families don't want to blow up because the fourth one doesn't want to let (a code-enforcer) in."
"In my opinion, if there is an emergency . . . they should come in there," said Helmuth, adding that maybe the ordinance needs to define exactly what constitutes an emergency.
Village attorney Bob Davis explained the current proposal is based on what's been presented in other communities and is the "max version" in terms of fees and other requirements.
"I've had to soften it and make it more gentle in other communities, particularly the financial burden, but not necessarily the important stuff," he said.
"I'm not saying that we don't need something, but . . . I'd like to see a softer version," Albensi said. "I would like to see a toned-down version of this."
Councilman Elgin Nichols understood both points of view in the debate.
"I agree it's somewhat intrusive in some areas, and yet I agree that there needs to be some type of cleanup (with regard to rental properties)," he said.
Nichols indicated he, too, would "like to see a different version" of the proposed ordinance presented to council. He read it "from cover to cover" and called it "extreme."
"I would agree that maybe you could soften it somewhat, but I think that this is something that's desperately needed," said Councilwoman Sue Bossardet. "I would not want to make it so soft that it's useless."
Bossardet sees enacting an ordinance like this as a way to help tenants. For example, she noted there might be some rental units with health violations, but the tenants are "hesitant to report them because they're in fear of the landlord kicking them out."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.