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Rental inspections get little support
Rental inspections get little support
By SUE REID
In special work session last week on a proposed rental-occupancy permit ordinance, Solon City Council did not offer much support for internal inspections of properties but would consider registrations.
Council also directed Solon Planning Director Robert S. Frankland to offer a systematic approach for a more extensive exterior maintenance program.
City Council discussed the proposed ordinance at length for the first time since its referral from the planning commission last month. The commission held months of public hearings on the ordinance, which Mr. Frankland released last October.
In his opening comments to council, Mr. Frankland said there are about 1,228 rental units in Solon. That number will grow as the population matures, he said. Of those rentals, 266, or 21 percent, are single-family homes, 52, or 4 percent, are two-family homes, and 910, or 74 percent, are multifamily homes or apartments. A total of 302 individuals own the rental units in the city.
Mr. Frankland said the first question that must be answered is whether the city wants a rental-occupancy permit ordinance at all. "Although the ordinance has been around for a year, I don't think we are at a point of consensus even on the basic elements," he said.
There are matters that would be addressed by the ordinance that are not currently in place in the city, he said. Currently, there are no means to inspect or regulate the condition of rental units, he said. In addition, renters cannot legally make repairs on the properties. It's difficult to have problems fixed if there are "absentee landlords," Mr. Frankland said.
Also, there is no current means of knowing who resides in a rental unit, Mr. Frankland said. There could be people with serious criminal histories, he said, an issue that has been raised by many of the residents who attended the public hearing as a major concern in their neighborhoods. "There has been a concern in Solon about suspicious activity," he said.
"I don't know if we really have a right to know who is living behind every door," Councilman Lon D. Stolarsky said.
"That's a call for council to make," Mr. Frankland said. "Are those issues important enough to you to do an ordinance? If not, you should not have that."
Councilman Edward H. Kraus said it appears that the testimony from residents to the planning commission came from people in one development, Thornbury, and not citywide.
He said the concerns they raised appear to be dealing more with criminal issues. "We should not be addressing those issues in an ordinance, because they are separate," Mr. Kraus said.
In the years he has taken complaints about homes, most are regarding owner-occupied homes, not rentals, Mr. Kraus said. "I understand the concerns of these rentals, but I have concerns of owner-occupied homes."
Councilwoman Toni M. Richmond said there is also an issue of owner-occupied homes in which rooms are rented out. In addition, she noted the issue of people who do not live in Solon sending their children to the schools. "This law would help determine that and be a benefit to the city," she said.
Ms. Richmond said there is a state law that requires landlords to register their property, and many do not do that.
Councilman Richard A. Bell said it's important to start with the question, "What is it we're trying to solve?" He said it seems to be that exterior issues and knowing who is living in the rental properties are concerns raised by residents, and that also ties into, "Who is in our schools?"
Councilman William I. Russo said most of the complaints he receives from residents in his ward deal with exterior maintenance. "Those complaints have all been resolved with what is on our books," he said. "Realistically, there is nothing brought up that can't already be addressed with our ordinances that are in place," he said.
"I think we have enough on the books right now to take care of the majority of problems," Mr. Russo said. "I would not want to see us adding more layers to that."
Mr. Russo said he would not be in favor of registrations. "I don't think any of the problems get fixed with what we are talking about," he said.
Ms. Richmond said Mr. Russo was the one who requested this legislation be drafted in the first place.
At the time, Mr. Russo said, he was not aware there was an ordinance on the books to fix the problems he was hearing. "I've changed my stance," he said. People need to speak up in their neighborhoods and report issues, he said, but many are afraid to make complaints.
A complaint-driven system is not solving problems, Ms. Richmond said. "In a perfect world, everyone would speak up, but for those who don't, maybe the city should take it out of their hands and be progressive like other Cuyahoga County suburbs," Ms. Richmond said.
"This is a very detailed ordinance," Mr. Bell said. It would be his preference to first address the situations by using laws the city has on its books, he said. "I hate to go at a problem with a sledge hammer and give residents false hope."
Mayor Susan A. Drucker said she agrees with Mr. Bell. "We have this ordinance, and we didn't know at the beginning where we would end up with it," she said, but it is bringing more awareness that there are exterior issues and concerns of who is living in rental homes.
Ms. Richmond said the ordinance should be put in place now, while rental properties are at a more manageable number, and they are going to increase.
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