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Code Enforcement

Code enforcement can save homes, lives, communities
Code Enforcement is a 2015 RHINO priority

Code enforcement in Canton
The Repository has a big article on the failure of the City of Canton to pay enough attention to blight and decay. Tenants fault? "Canton no longer conducts routine reviews of rental properties and relies instead on tenant complaints to trigger inspections. Even still, the city has too few code enforcement officers to handle the workload." Reliance on a "complaint driven" system is just one of the problems. 
Code enforcement is another victim of the national decline in homeownership and the increase in single family rental housing. There are more than 6,200 registered nonowner-occupied properties in Canton — nearly six times as many as there were last year. " There are more than 6,200 registered nonowner-occupied properties in Canton — nearly six times as many as there were last year"
    Complaint driven systems were never meant to deal with tenant complaints...they only work where resident homeowners get cited and cooperate voluntarily.  Paraphrasing Joe Louis, complaint driven systems are based on the "you can run, but you can't hide" strategy.  With the expansion of absentee landlords, voluntary compliance doesn't work so well.
Little Whitehall takes on blight...failure of code enforcement?



Canton landlords push back. Are they right?

    This past Monday Canton City Council took up "first reading" of an ordinance that would raise rental registration fees on landlords in the city. The Canton Repository reports that "Mayor William J. Healy II on Monday said the department at the time wasn’t generating enough revenue to sustain itself and even now doesn’t have excess revenue." 
    At Monday night's Council meeting landlords protested this proposed fee increase. Here's the issues they raised. 
  • Landlords "don’t own the properties they rent, so asking them to pay more per property while they’re also paying a bank isn’t doable." 
  • Council should "focus first on finding unregistered rental properties and collecting fees from their owners." 
  • Members of council of only caring about the neighborhoods at election time and s 
  • Landlords have become scapegoats for the condition of the neighborhoods." 
Are the landlords right? Is the city wrong? Lets look at the issues the landlords raise one at a time. 
1. Landlords don't own the properties that they rent out because they are paying a mortgage. Bunk! Almost every property owner is paying a mortgage. Not "doable"? Council President Schulman is right. If you can't afford to be a landlord, get out of the business.
2. Go after unregistered properties first. Landlords have a good point. The owners who have are least likely to be hiding bad conditions and bad management. Targetting unregistered properties with intensive research makes sense. Not because it will raise revenues, but because it will target offenders.
3. Council only cares at election time. Landlords are probably right. That's a system we call "representative democracy". Right now elected officials are counting votes. Doing something for the voters (most of whom are not landlords) just makes sense. Seems like residents (neighbors and tenants) have done a pretty good job making rental compliance an election issue.
4. Landlords have become scapegoats. Maybe but...if neglected problems are not causing neighborhood deterioration, what is?
    Here's where the city is wrong. Rental registration seems ls a tax on landlords, not a neighborhood improvement strategy. The Repository notes: "Council raised rental fees and eliminated mandatory inspections several years ago, with the goal of making the department self-sufficient and more efficient — enforcement officers no longer needed to inspect properties that never posed problems." Landlords who pay for registration deserve to be able to tell their neighbors and tenants--I've been inspected. Unless rental registration is tied to mandatory inspection and unless registration evaders are held to account, the election grandstanding won't solve any problems.   Read more here
PS: Code Enforcement doesn't end when tenants leave.  Read it here

 
More Code Enforcement Stories

More on occupancy codes and affordable housing
Proponents of occupancy code argue that occupancy codes prevent overcrowding and deterioration; opponents say the people/bedroom are arbitrary standards that undermine affordability.                                         Read more here

August 22, 2016 Nonprofit Quarterly Granny Meets NIMBY
Community standards seem to be at the root of the problems presented in the Belgrades’ and the Coffees’ stories. Putting an accessory dwelling unit on a lot in an area zoned for “single family” homes can make neighbors nervous. The Christian Science Monitor explains this aversion to accessory housing as “a broader cultural clash, as longstanding notions of the ideal American home” and cites experts calling for a rethinking of what “home” means in the 21st Century.

Credit for Columbus Code Enforcement?

    Columbus Dispatch takes some credit for the city's war on slumlords...but they weren't alone in the battle. 
"The city’s efforts are in response to the “Legacy of Neglect” series that ran in The Dispatch in 2013. The seven-month investigation, available online at Dispatch.com/neglect, detailed how a passive code-enforcement system along with lax laws and judicial decisions enabled chronic housing-code violators to thumb their noses at the system while tenants and neighborhoods suffered. Following the series, Mayor Michael B. Coleman boosted the city’s code-enforcement staff, from 54 in 2013 to 63 today, and took steps to be more proactive. Also, the Columbus City Council boosted the penalties for code-enforcement violations from a maximum fine of $500 and 60 days in jail to $1,000 and six months in jail."
    Some credit goes to Slumlord Watch of Columbus, neighborhood residents on Facebook who were naming and shaming: before the Dispatch and before the tragic deaths in Franklinton. more on Code Enforcement in Ohio   

Canton raises landlords' rental fees to $80

    Canton Repository reports: "City officials have promised the additional funding will be used to hire more code enforcement officers to inspect rental properties and to hire other personnel to help prosecute property owners who violate city code, though council members Monday didn’t have a firm grasp on what the staffing breakdown might look like.This summer, tenants, neighbors and landlords attended council meetings to ask city officials for a better system for monitoring Canton’s thousands of rental properties, which they say often are unlivable, either because the maintenance staff won’t make fixes or because previous renters have trashed the homes."
    Sadly, homeless advocates appeared in opposition to the fee increase.  "...two women, both of whom work with Stark County’s homeless population, told council members they worried about how a fee increase would affect the city’s poor, who depend on partnerships between area agencies and private landlords to find affordable housing."
    Burden shifts to City Administrators to assure that code enforcement works.

Property code appears headed toward Nelsonville citizen vote
Athens News reports:  "Of special concern is "a small number" of property owners who do not reside in Nelsonville and the time it takes to get them to correct violations, he said. Koons added that a lack of staff is also worrisome. Koons said the city needs a strong property maintenance ordinance for the health and safety of tenants. Additionally, the town "needs good housing stock" to grow and prosper, he said."

Prescription: Housing code enforcement
    Doctors at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital can predict which children are most at risk for hospitalization for asthma...by looking at housing code enforcement records.  "Children who lived in areas with poor air quality were 84 percent more likely to return, according to Beck’s findings. Even with most of the population in predominantly poverty-stricken areas, the researchers were able to differentiate between high-risk and low-risk housing complexes." Read more here.
    In Cleveland, Environmental Health Watch has take asthma prevention to the next step by identifying simple ways to reduce asthma "triggers" that result in costly hospital visits.  Learn more here.

Enforcement delayed pending case outcome
From the Youngstown Vindicator:  "A case to determine whether Boardman Township can keep its new home-rule resolution, which requires landlords to register with the township and maintain certain standards in their units, will go to trial.  [ ]  The case centers around whether the township has the authority to establish a landlord registration program. The resolution, which trustees approved in November, requires landlords to register with the township and provide contact information, pay an annual fee, maintain certain standards in their rental units and subject their units to periodic inspections by the zoning department if there are complaints.

Code Enforcement means walking the walk
The city of Conneaut Oh is wrestling with a recently enacted code enforcement program that's not performing as planned.  "Council touted the program as another step in improving the city’s housing stock. Over the past few years, council has made the appearance and condition of dwellings a priority." read more here.
PS:  Landlords in Pittsburgh are challenging an increase in landlord registration on the grounds that "it's just a new tax".  Local jurisdictions need to sell the benefit of stabilizing the rental market and weeding out the bad actors so that everyone is operating on the same playing field.

Could Code Enforcement reduce public unrest?
That could be the message of a recent article in "Next City" based on soon to be published scientific research.  "Another, more palatable response would be to ramp up scrutiny of landlords who are not complying with proper upkeep. Compelling them to treat rodent infestations, clean up trash, and fix heating could, according to this hypothesis, play a role in preventing crime by helping to resolve and avert tenant-landlord disputes. And even if crime rates didn’t budge, such an approach would yield a variety of other benefits. This research simply adds another reason to be vigilant about enforcing those rules in disadvantaged communities. New data availability, says Sampson, makes it easier to “pinpoint more trouble spots that need inspections.”  

Code enforcement-tales of 3 cities in Ohio.
     Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati all made the news this week with issues involving housing code enforcement. Code enforcement has become an big issue in both large and small cities all around the state as a result of blighted and abandoned housing stock in the wake of the Great Recession,
      At cleveland.com, Mark Naymik writes about two buildings near Shaker Square. One is tax delinquent and abandoned. The other is the scene of a recent shooting. Both owned by an out of town corporation. A the urging of local activists, the City brought charges in Cleveland Housing Court last Spring...but the case was closed with no evidence of action. Naymik writes: "I asked City Hall officials to fill in the blanks and discuss their efforts to deal with the properties and the owners. Spokesman Dan Ball said in an email that the owners have appealed both current citations and that means plans to demolish the Drexmore property are on hold. (The city did not respond to questions about the Housing Court case or details about who filed the appeal)
     Facing similar enforcement problems, the City of Columbus is considering a $1,000/day fine for unresolved code violations. The hefty fine is designed to discourage code violators from endless appeals. Landlords have expressed opposition to the proposal in front of Columbus City Council this past week. According to the article: "Under the new proposal, owners would have to pay accumulated fines if they lose an appeal, back to when the city levied the civil penalty...." More aggressive code enforcement in Columbus has been propelled by a series of articles in the Columbus Dispatch and the on-going efforts of ordinary citizens including the Facebook group: Slumlord Watch of Columbus
    Meanwhile the City of Cincinnati is taking on a major national non profit developer which specializes in preserving affordable housing. The Community Builders (TCB) used a variety of public financial tools and the pressure by the city and the advocate community to gain control of 15 Federally assisted properties seized in a foreclosure by Fannie Mae. Months later, many violations remain unaddressed. "It's the perspective of Legal Aid that TCB receives millions of dollars annually for the sole purpose of maintaining, repairing and rehabbing these buildings, and the word from the (city's) building department is that their quality of life is becoming extremely difficult because of TCB's unexplained inability to use the millions they get ... to serve these residents," Marcheta Gillam, a Legal Aid attorney, told The Enquirer on Thursday morning..."  more here.
    PS: From Cincinnati Enquirer: "The Community Builders, the nation's largest nonprofit developer of mixed-income and subsidized housing, also known as TCB, has 60 days to correct building code violations in 15 of its Cincinnati properties or face legal action, according to a letter issued Nov. 18 by the city. Two are among the five original Choice buildings: Crescent Court and Somerset Manor, 802-814 Blair Ave. While the developer works to correct violations in those 15 buildings, eight of which are in Walnut Hills, the Avondale project will move ahead.  In each of these cases, local advocates have pushed city government to take action that makes a difference where the citizens live. Naymik quotes Cleveland activist Rob Render saying: "This action was initiated from the ground up...." [ ] "You can't just think City Hall can take care of everything. Citizens have got to get involved."  With legislators and courts nibbling away at tenants rights, advocates who are winning strong and effective code enforcement are a key to preserving safe and decent rental housing...and to protecting nearby resident homeowners from blight.

Code enforcement is costly and no code enforcement is risky says mayor of McKeesport Pa.
We had a horrible, unfortunate tragedy here recently, and we've been in the process of really trying to get a grasp of our landlord situation in town and really holding our landlords accountable,” Mr. Cherepko said, as trying to track property owners is sometimes a problem. Lack of manpower, particularly within the building inspection office, and limited resources have made it difficult to enforce ordinances already in place, he said. Current city ordinances only require an inspection at a building’s purchase, he said. Some landlords will buy a home and won’t sell it again for decades, creating long stretches without required inspections." Read more here.
Related topic from Nelsonville, OH.

Cincinnati tackles another problem property
    Following last week's story of nuisance charges against national developer TCB, The Cincinnati Enquirer profiles another problem property,  financed by Fannie Mae, which has sunk into desrepair and facing foreclosure. 
    "Earlier this year, city of Cincinnati lawsuits helped push the Mickey Avenue property and two others located within a mile owned by Roger and Deborah Conners into foreclosure. The government-sponsored entity Fannie Mae guaranteed loans on the buildings. Sales of the mortgages pave the way for new property owners.
Fannie Mae, or the Federal National Mortgage Association, says it is concerned about the safety of tenants in multifamily properties, reducing loan losses and returning properties to productive use. But the process can yield uneven impacts.  The issues in East Price Hill reflect the complex challenges municipalities face when dealing with problem landlords."
READ MORE HERE