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March 18, 2009

 

Rental permit vote could come in May

Alderman calls for 2 public hearings in April on proposal to limit rental property occupancy

By ELAINE HUGHES
Staff Reporter
ehughes@cortlandstandard.net

After more than a year of discussing a proposed rental housing permit, the city’s Common Council will likely delay a vote on the proposal until May.
Alderman Brian Tobin (D-4th Ward) said after Tuesday’s council meeting that he would like to hold a public hearing at the council’s two meetings in April and hold a vote in May.
Tobin noted the council would not have to close the public hearing after the April 7 meeting and could extend the hearing to the council’s next meeting to provide time for revising the proposal and receiving additional feedback from the community.
The council did not vote to schedule a hearing on the program.
The rental housing permit program is meant to enforce existing city zoning codes that state only three unrelated people can reside in dwelling units within the R-1 zoning district.
City Assessor David Briggs said the proposed rental housing permit could cause a drop in properties’ assessments when fewer people are allowed to live in rental units, causing a decrease in the property’s income.
The property’s assessment could also increase if properties near the college become more valuable and are able to raise rents.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t tell which of these scenarios will happen,” Briggs said, in noting that he takes several factors, including the properties’ conditions, square footage, the number of occupants, and price of renting a unit when assessing the value of rental properties.
He noted a properties’ assessment is more complicated than the figure of $20,000 a bed that is often cited by landlords.
The proposed program would require landlords to register rental units with the city code enforcement office and have the units inspected by the city at least once every three years.
Tobin proposed a $35 fee for inspecting rental units in single-family and multiple-family dwellings and that the city maintain its current fees for inspecting rental properties.
Currently, landlords are charged fees that start at $35 for three-family dwellings and increase about $5 for each family in a dwelling.
Dwellings with eight or more families are charged a $50 inspection fee plus a $25 fee for each hour the city’s code inspection office spends inspecting the property, according to the city’s Code Enforcement Office.
Fire department Capt. Bill Knickerbocker said this morning that state law requires dwellings with three or more families to be inspected once every three years.
Currently, all inspections for single-family homes are voluntary, Knickerbocker said.
Landlords could pay one fee for the registration of the property and having it inspected once every three years, Tobin said.
He added that he had not yet set up a meeting with staff in the city Code Enforcement Office since the council’s March 3 meeting and would need to speak with them about any unforeseen expenses, such as software and the cost of forms, that could occur from the program.
After landlords register their properties, inspections would be made at least every three years or upon complaint by tenants or neighbors. The Code Enforcement Office would determine the condition of the rental property.
No violations would be issued until one year after the law goes into effect.
Some landlords continued to voice their opposition to the proposed program.
Landlord Tony Pace said during the public comments at Tuesday’s meeting that he was opposed to the way the council formed the law using an ad-hoc committee, without informing the public of when these meetings would be held or keeping minutes of the meetings.
“This led me to the conclusion this was all about secrecy,” Pace said, adding that no council member should “fear scrutiny” because criticism could lead to a better law.
Tobin has said landlords and the public were invited to the committee meetings to provide feedback on the proposed program.
Landlord Marc Pace said his main concern is not allowing more than three unrelated people to reside in a rental unit, and that the program could cause increased sprawl from displaced students moving further into neighborhoods.
“That could be 600 or 700 students that would be displaced from their apartments,” Marc Pace added.

 

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