Landlords oppose regular inspections



A proposed city ordinance amendment that would require regular rental housing inspections and charge property owners annual licensing fees is facing strong opposition from many landlords in New Haven.

The goal of the proposal — which would affect between 30,000 and 55,000 rental units in the city — is to ensure properties are managed properly and legally, and “prevent blight” throughout the city. It would require landlords to pay a $50 annual fee and an additional $10 fee for each rental unit. Hotels, rooming houses, city-owned units, college dormitories, and owner-occupied properties would be exempt from the amendment.

Acting Director of the Livable City Initiative Andrew J. Rizzo, Jr., who crafted the proposal, said routine inspections would raise the quality of life in New Haven neighborhoods and, in turn, possibly increase property values in the city.

“It’s going to require absentee landlords to take care of properties, and to see that they are keeping it up,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo said while the current inspection system allows tenants or neighbors to call and complain to city officials when rental conflicts arise, too many people have declined the opportunity due to fear of retaliation from their landlords. He said the proposed amendment would allow officials to enforce housing codes equally throughout the city.

But Greater New Haven Property Owners Association President Douglas E. Losty said he thought that the current housing inspection system ensures safety and quality living, and that the additional inspections were unnecessary and inefficient.

“It would almost be like a police officer pulling you over without cause on a whim,” he said. “There are always problems, but right now there are means to solve those problems — all they have to do is pick up the phone and call the city.”

Losty said tenants are rarely apprehensive of calling city authorities when they have complaints. In fact, he said when some tenants cannot get through to their landlord within a matter of hours, they call the city immediately, and even use it as an excuse to avoid paying rent on time.

“The tenants are pretty quick to complain. I don’t think [Rizzo's] statement regarding intimidation is a widespread experience at all,” he said.

Additionally, Losty said the proposal would place a financial burden on landlords which would only translate into higher rent for tenants. He said to meet the yearly proposed inspection standards, the city would have to hire many more inspectors and increase licensing fees even further. He said this could lead to a decrease in property values as tenants look to other cities for housing.

Although the city has studied similar programs in cities like Oakland, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., Losty said he was skeptical of how successful it could be in New Haven. He said that abandoned buildings — not rental units — are the biggest source of blight in the city.

“It’s hard to see any advantages of doing this,” he said. “It would mean increased costs and decreased property values.”

But Rizzo said rental prices would likely not increase because the proposed yearly fees are only a “minute percentage” of the revenues generated by rental units for landlords.

Lynwood Avenue resident Tamar Rudnick ’04 said she would welcome routine inspections at her rental house so that problems she has experienced in the past — including rodents, water leakages and collapsing ceilings — might be remedied earlier.

“Inspections going on on a regular basis would give people comfort. I would probably be willing to pay a little more for that,” Rudnick said.

She said although her landlord has always taken care of maintenance problems, it can sometimes take longer than she would like.

Rizzo said the city will hold a public hearing on the issue within the next several months. If the proposed ordinance amendment passes a vote by the Board of Aldermen, it could go into effect as soon as June or July.

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