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Inspection debate clouds rental law
Inspection debate clouds rental law
By SUE REID
Following a public hearing before the Solon planning commission last week on a proposed rental occupancy registration program, Councilwoman and commission member Toni M. Richmond said she could not support the legislation. "It is not worth the paper it is written on," she said.
The revised ordinance calls for registration of rental properties only and excludes inspections. The commission moved to table it and revisit it at their March 15 meeting.
"This does not accomplish anything," Ms. Richmond said. "We need to do something to protect our residents from degradation of our community and decline in property values," she said.
"Registration without the inspection component does nothing," she said. "We need to protect people who rent from landlords who neglect their properties."
"The election season for council is starting," commission member Roger C. Newberry replied. To say the legislation does nothing is "in error," he said.
Regarding the comment about it being election season, Ms. Richmond said, "That's absolutely untrue, and my colleague knows that." She said the inspection component, along with registration, has been something she has supported almost from the beginning. "Initially, I was against it. Then I did my research," she said. "I spoke with other cities who have it and evaluated the effectiveness of this in their areas," she said.
"I want to protect residents of Solon," Ms. Richmond said. "I'm not trying to protect landlords but our residents."
Mr. Newberry later apologized for his comment.
Referring to some comments by critics of her position, Ms. Richmond said, "I don't believe it is a racist policy. By saying that, what are they suggesting, that only landlords are minorities or only renters are minorities? It's ridiculous.
"The purpose of the ordinance is to protect not only renters but those who make the largest investment -- their home." Ms. Richmond said problems with rental properties are occurring all over Solon.
"I believe wholeheartedly that, if we don't get ahead of the curve, once Solon's housing stock starts to slide, it's too late," she said. "The time is right to do something now and get ahead of the curve."
If Solon doesn't do something now to protect its residents, it will "be another Lakewood or Maple Heights," she said. That's why Rocky River, which is next to Lakewood, enacted legislation, she said. "They did not want to experience that same kind of decline." She met with officials there who told her that their objective was to make sure rental properties were indistinguishable from owner-occupied dwellings, Ms. Richmond said. "I think they have been able to accomplish that."
Speaking of the legislation before the commission, Mr. Newberry said, "At least it gets us off the ground."
He said, "We've spent 12 months reviewing it and have gotten nowhere. Council did nothing with it, because there was too much on the plate. We need to bite off part of this meal."
Mr. Newberry said, "To say this does nothing is false and leads to false hope on the part of residents faced with bad situations with their neighbors."
In defense of City Council, Mayor Susan A. Drucker said the planning commission also did not do much with the ordinance. The commission passed it off with a few questions and a few recommendations, she said.
Mrs. Drucker said she was in support of inspections but could see the "writing on the wall" with council. "They would not support it," she said.
She would support registration without inspections, "because we have to start somewhere," she said. "I'd like to get something going in the city."
"We all agree that our homes are our biggest investment, and it's incumbent upon us to get the ball rolling," commission member E. Macke Bentley IV said. "We need to have some teeth, or it's not viable. We have to start somewhere."
"Some people suggested this is the first step," Ms. Richmond said. "If the objection to the original legislation was that it was intrusive in people's lives, they will never go to the second or third step," she said. "They are pacifying us, and it's meaningless without inspections."
Commission member William M. Mazur asked Ms. Richmond to reconsider. "The majority of the commission agrees that we at least start some place and start small and see where it goes," he said.
"I would hate to see us, after all this conversation, public hearing and debate," not do something, Mr. Mazur said. "I'm not a proponent of internal inspections, but prove me wrong. To do nothing is wrong. We need to do something."
"I can't support this in its current form, and I won't," Ms. Richmond said.
Mrs. Drucker noted that City Council would consider a more systematic approach to exterior maintenance in which all properties are reviewed. "I believe council would be in support of stronger exterior maintenance along with registration as a starting point," she said.
Mr. Mazur said the commission hopes to get guidance and thoughts from the community as they move forward.
Ms. Richmond said she hears from neighborhoods outside of her ward, as well as from her constituents, who want rental legislation. "If this legislation was put on the ballot for a vote of the people, I am pretty certain it would overwhelmingly pass," she said of including inspections.
She said she also has support on council. "If the registration-only legislation passes in planning commission, it still has to go back to council, and there is still options for a public hearing," Ms. Richmond said.
If residents have concerns about the legislation going forward without inspections, they need to contact their council representatives and attend the meeting to voice concerns about wanting to do what's "right for the residents of Solon," she said. "The right thing is to have meaningful legislation that has teeth. Without teeth, it offers no protection."
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