Landlords weigh in on legislation

EAST LIVERPOOL – Legislation aimed at regulating rental property in the city is still in limbo as talks continue between officials and landlords, most of whom seem to be against implementing the new regulations.

The so-called “better landlord” legislation was prepared after several months of discussion between city council’s economic development committee, administration and members of the city landlords association.

However, when it came before council for a vote, the legislation ended up tabled when some council members decided more discussion and input from landlords was needed.

At a public meeting Monday night, landlords did weigh in, with some indicating the legislation could make them decide to sell their properties in the city.

Jeff Diddle and his wife, Cathy, owned their own rentals and recently acquired his late father’s rental properties as well. He said they have been working diligently to make repairs and upgrades but said, “We are the first to admit that we have at least four properties that we are not particularly proud of. They need major work.”

Diddle said they have made major repairs in the past year and said, “We are doing our best to turn a profit, but at present, we are pouring most of our money back into repairs, taxes, insurance and, yes, rental fees.”

He said for them to become part of the proposed Better Landlord program as it is written would be impossible because they would be non-compliant in many areas without being able to quickly bring all their properties into compliance, so they would have to opt out, meaning they would be forced to pay the higher fee charged landlords who don’t participate.

The Diddles listed specifically several areas of the proposed legislation they believe are problematic, including a provision requiring non-resident landlords to give power of attorney to a city resident; inspection provisions; a disproportionate cost study showing regarding safety services; irrevocable consent to enter their properties; and a provision that they could be held liable for breach of contract if one of their units fails to comply, as well as others.

Saying he and his wife want to own “beautiful, modern, up to date rental units that have tenants without problems,” Diddle admitted, “But, that is not the reality of East Liverpool. Most of our houses are approaching 100 years old and require maintenance.”

Also speaking were landlords Jean and Marion Perkins, who said the last time their properties were inspected was 2000, when the current city laws say they are to be inspected annually and that a $40 per unit rental license fee is to pay for that inspection.

Councilman Ray Perorazio, who had called for the special meeting, told the couple that Mayor Jim Swoger is the administrator, not council, saying, “We can’t do anything about that.”

“If you can’t enforce the old ones, then why go to new ones?” Mr. Perkins asked.

Swoger responded, “We’re going to try and make this better so they will work. It will be a combination of the old and new,” but Mr. Perkins said the new legislation is “entirely different” from the existing ordinances.

The Perkinses provided documentation from the Planning Department showing that only 50 housing inspections had been conducted in the city since March of 2013 and, from those, no penalties had arisen.

“Why? I see all these scumbag landlords and nothing’s done. Why, Jim?” Mr. Perkins asked Swoger.

Perorazio said he would like to see the legislation include “most of the old stuff” but also a new provision for a $50 per day fine for landlords until they bring their properties into compliance.

Landlord Linda Ziegler also addressed the three council members who attended – Perorazio, Scott Barrett and Russell Dray – reiterating concerns she has raised in the past about the accuracy of the numbers used in the disproportionate fee study, but Perorazio told her she was beating a dead horse.

Saying that, as a city firefighter 38 years, he could attest to the fact that the majority of calls to which the department responded were to rental properties, as the study indicated.

“If you didn’t have rental properties, you would rarely have the fire department called,” Perorazio told her.

Ziegler cautioned council members to consider the impact of the legislation on local business if landlords decide to “pull back,” saying one carpet shop owner said that 70 percent of her business comes from landlords.

Noting the cracked windows in council chambers, Ziegler said City Hall should be able to meet the same standards to which rental units are being held, saying, “Don’t make rentals the scapegoats for everyone.”

President of Council John Torma added, “I believe anything put onto landlords should be put onto home owners.”

The meeting ended with no action taken and Perorazio saying, “We have all the time in the world” to get legislation in place and saying that future meetings will be scheduled.

Swoger said he would like to see landlords provide their concerns in writing.