EAST LIVERPOOL - Landlords turned out en masse for a meeting of City Council's committee as a whole Monday night to discuss a proposed Better Landlord program that had many of them up in arms.
Simply put, the program is non-mandatory, but landlords who choose to participate will see a reduction in their annual rental fees if they comply with stringent regulations set down regarding background checks and screening tenants as well as for maintenance of their properties.
Several landlords spoke during the meeting, primarily with objections to the proposal.
A roomful of concerned landlords filled East Liverpool City Council chambers Monday night for a committee of the whole meeting to discuss a proposed landlord program. (Photo by Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert)
Don Jones, representing Dresden Family Group Rentals, said all officers of the group live inside city limits and own their own homes and he chose to speak specifically about a four-unit brick rental they own on Cadmus Street, outlining the cost of rental fees, taxes, insurance and the cost of trash, water and levies they pay, as well as the income taxes their tenants pay.
"We're not getting free services and still it is like a Third World Country street," Jones complained, saying he does not feel landlords should be charged extra for the program when they are "paying our fair share."
He passed around photos of a dumping area at the top of Cadmus Street and said he spends his own time picking up trash along the street, saying, "The city owes me money for cleaning up (its) property."
Landlord Al Fricano read from a prepared statement, saying that, while he commends the city for its effort in formulating a better landlord program, the legislation as proposed is "bad, cumbersome, confusing and unenforceable."
Referring to a proposed disproportionate fee for landlords due to the higher number of police and fire calls to rental units, Fricano said that was a "bogus claim," saying police and fire budgets are fully funded with levies and income taxes and landlords should not have to pay twice, since they already pay those taxes.
Fricano and other landlords complained that the city fails to enforce zoning laws on property owners, saying landlords are being forced to maintain their rental properties based on a higher standard than home owners who live next door.
In addition, he and others said, the city does not maintain its own properties at the same standard being proposed for landlords.
He proposed adding provisions to the better landlord program that the city would agree to, including enforcing ordinances holding all property owners to the same standards, holding the city subject to the same penalties for not maintaining its property, holding landlords harmless for any liability they incur by infringing on tenants' rights by enforcing the proposed better landlord program and more.
Ron Beachley said he had sat in on several meetings at which the program was hashed out and said it seemed suggestions made by himself and other landlords were not considered or included.
Calcutta resident Jim Salvatore, who owns rental property in the city, said, "The city has treated me so badly, I have every one of my rentals up for sale," and presented a letter from the Beaver Creek Realtors Association saying it fears the proposed legislation will cause a glut of such rental properties on the market, with a resulting loss in tax base.
Ohio Avenue resident Brian Kerr, who owns a few rentals as well as a downtown business, said he had had "a hard time dealing with the city," complaining that he applied for a business loan (through the city's Community Improvement Corporation) and several city council members turned him down.
Kerr did, in fact, receive a loan through the CIC, although not the full amount he had requested. After last night's meeting, Councilwoman Sherrie Curtis confirmed his comment that she had opposed the loan, saying she supported it in the CIC finance meeting but then learned that Kerr had lied during that meeting about having purchased Wolfe TV, after which she refused to support loaning him money.
Kerr also said the rental program does not need changed from start to finish.
Committee Chairman Ryan Stovall said the Beaver Creek Realtors Association had, in fact, been invited to attend planning meetings for the legislation and a member had said it "isn't too bad."
Mark Kubricky of Better City LLC, said the better landlord program is designed not to be a new source of revenue for the city but to reduce costs to the city, noting studies showed rental properties consume more services than other properties.
He stressed participation is not mandatory but pointed out it is better to meet higher standards in order to attract higher quality tenants.
"One of the big purposes of the better landlord program is to protect landlords' investments, but it only works if everyone participates," Kubricky said, adding it also protects a tenants' rights.
In Ogden, Utah, where he lives, Kubricky said the program has been in place for 10 years and is credited as the number one reason for that city's turn-around. Better City LLC is based in Ogden.
The discussion carried over into City Council's regular session which followed the committee meeting, where Dave Damaso, president of the East Liverpool Landlords Association addressed the issue.
He said there are some good aspects and some onerous ones, saying landlords' perception is the city is working against them.
Damaso said if police are being called to rental properties, landlords need advised, but Stovall related one incident in which a landlord was advised that her rental property was being used for drug activity and she responded by saying the tenants pay the rent on time and the city could buy it in order to halt the activity.
President of Council John Torma related a similar scenario from his own neighborhood in which a landlord was advised about drug activity and "he did nothing."
Damaso said a 100 percent reduction in rental fees for participating landlords would also "go a long way" toward helping landlords embrace the program.
Councilman Scott Barrett, himself a landlord, said he has heard of a community in which the landlord's name and phone number are posted on the front of each rental property so people can call them, saying, "I'd do it. That was a great suggestion," although there were those in the audience heard grumbling about that proposal.
Linda Ziegler of Ohio Avenue suggested having the police department do the background checks and having copies of the ordinance provided to landlords at no cost. She also reiterated her concerns that the city's list of rental units was not used in compiling the study for the proposed legislation.
Landlord Andrew Black complained not about the better landlord program, per se, but a lack of action by several city departments when he called about a rat problem at a house next to his rental property, saying he ultimately had to exterminate them himself.
Stovall said the comments made Monday were being taken under advisement, adding, "There have been changes made. Nobody likes change, but we have to do what we have to do."