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New England News

Landlords Oppose Plan For Registration, Inspection Fees

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WAMC
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Landlords in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts could be required to pay registration and inspection fees if a controversial ordinance on the agenda for the next city council meeting is enacted.

The rental property registration and inspection ordinance was first introduced by City Councilor Orlando Ramos more than two years ago.  He said he has spent time since researching similar laws in other communities, listening to the concerns of landlords and tenants, holding public hearings, and has now crafted something tailored to the needs of Springfield.

" The ordinance will hopefully clean up the city as far as absentee landlords go. It will help improve the rental market, home ownership, and housing market in the city of Springfield," said Ramos.

The proposed ordinance is on the agenda for the April 4th city council meeting.  It would require landlords to pay a $40 registration fee, with a renewal every four years. Additionally, a $25 fee would be charged each time the city inspects an apartment building, which could be as infrequently as once every four years or annually if an inspection turns up violations of building or sanitary codes.

" It breaks down to 83 cents a month. I don't think that will put a financial burden on anyone," said Ramos

The additional revenue from the fees would be enough to hire two additional code enforcement inspectors and a staffer in the city’s law department to work on housing issues, according to Ramos.

Buildings with four or more apartments are already subject to regular inspections, according to Springfield Code Enforcement Commissioner Steve Desilets. The proposed ordinance would expand the inspection requirement to include two-three family apartment buildings.

" In cases where a property has not been looked at because tenants have not complained and we show up and find code violations it will cause us to look even further. We may  look to get access to the building to make sure it is safe," explained Desilets.

There are about 30,000 apartments in Springfield.

In addition to the inspection mandates, the proposed registration requirements would make it harder for landlords to shield their identities behind corporate names, according to Desilets.  Landlords who live outside a 20-mile radius from Springfield would be required to name a local agent.

Russell Sabadosa of the Rental Housing Association of Greater Springfield said real estate agents and landlords are adamantly against the proposed ordinance.

" It is not needed at all. It is duplicative of other laws that are in place," said Sabadosa.

He said rather than registering and inspecting all rental housing properties, the city should devote its resources to cracking down on problem landlords.

" This ordinance, if passed, will not achieve the stated goal, because landlords not complying with existing laws are not going to register," he said.

Sabadosa said the history of similar ordinances in other communities suggests rents could increase and sales of apartment buildings could decline.

Michaelann Bewsee, Executive Director of Arise for Social Justice, said the anti-poverty organization endorses the ordinance.

" We think tenants have a right to live in housing that meets that state sanitary code and this will help to achieve that," she said.

Ramos said he has tried to strike a compromise to make the ordinance less burdensome for responsible landlords.  Owner-occupied buildings would be exempt from the registration and inspection fees. Also exempted would be buildings constructed within the last 10 years and apartments where rents are subsidized by government vouchers, since these are already required to undergo periodic inspections.

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