Planners hears pros, cons on inspections

STEUBENVILLE – The president of the Jefferson County Landlord Association said his group can understand the need for rental property inspections if the property owner has received citations and refused to come into compliance.

“But we do not agree with the inspection of every rental property if just one property is not in compliance. I can never agree with that. And banning rental properties in a certain neighborhood could be a veiled attempt to keep minorities out of a neighborhood. That legislation could be a discriminatory tool,” Jerome Hagerty warned the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission members Monday night.

Hagerty was one of several landlords and residents who commented during the 90-minute planning commission meeting that reviewed two proposed ordinances regarding rental property inspections and the creation of conservation districts limiting future rental properties.

Hagerty said a private meeting arranged last week by Councilman at large Kenny Davis, “was a good chance to air our concerns in a non-confrontational session.”

The meeting included Hagerty, Jefferson County Landlord Association Vice President Joe Luckino, City Manager Tim Boland, Law Director S. Gary Repella, Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi and 2nd Ward Councilman Mike Johnson.

Boland said City Council will discuss proposed legislation regarding rental properties during a City Council Planning Committee meeting tonight.

Ruth Mularcik questioned why only rental properties will be subject to an inspection.

“And, if you grandfather rental properties, what happens when we want to sell our rental properties to an owner-occupied buyer? I know every property with debris in the yard is only a rental property. Folks who are private property owners must be appalled when their next door neighbor has trash in their yard,” said Mularcik.

Six Alexander Manor residents joined spokesperson Denise White when she said they supported the proposed legislation for a conservation district.

“We live in a very nice and well-established neighborhood. We have seen an example of an unregulated rental property. We cannot resolve the issue ourselves. We feel helpless and see the rental issue bringing down our property values. We have even considered moving,” White said holding up photos of a rental property in her neighborhood.

“When I walk around the neighborhood I come to the rental property and find oil spots on the road where the tenants park their vehicles. I find no other oil spots on the road because the property owners maintain their vehicles and keep them in their driveway,” added Bill McElwain.

According to Luckino, landlords don’t want run-down neighborhoods and houses.

“But we have a large need for executive rental properties and your proposed legislation will limit those rental properties. We rent to executives all over the city. If you make only certain neighborhoods available for rentals, the executives won’t move to Steubenville. They are not going to spend their money here,” said Luckino.

“I don’t want trash in my neighborhoods. I call Code Enforcement Officer Shawn Scott every week about problem areas. The city should enforce the code and if they won’t keep their property clean, put them in jail. Designating conservation districts will kill this city. No investor will buy a house if they can’t rent it. We are here to work with the city,” continued Luckino.

City resident LaDonna Delatore agreed with Luckino and said the city has failed to enforce the property code.

“If you don’t enforce the code the city will start to look like Seventh, Eighth and Ninth streets. I have bought two houses to keep the slumlords out. But there are also houses with university kids living in them and they are called households. And there are families taking in students so they can be considered independent and get financial aid to go to the university,” stated Delatore.

“My children think I am crazy for staying on LaBelle. There are drug dealers on the streets and on the corners. If I can’t get through my streets when they are dealing drugs why should I stay here? I don’t have to live here. I don’t believe I should have to police my neighborhood. I think the sanitation department should have the power to issue citations. Sanitation workers can see where the garbage is piling up. It is unfair we have to look at garbage for a year,” noted Delatore.

“The biggest problem in the city are the vacant or abandoned properties. The second largest problem is the owner-occupied properties and then the rental properties,” cited Petrossi.

“We will take the comments made here tonight very seriously. And we will discuss the issues and the comments with City Council,” Petrossi added.

And Commission member Teresa DiCarlantonio urged patience.

“Given time we will make changes. We can’t let the problems continue. We can work out some good solutions. We need to address rental houses and property owners who don’t care. A good change is on the way. I can promise you that,” DiCarlantonio said.

Johnson said the city has to be more aggressive with code enforcement.

“I like this proposed legislation because it empowers the citizens and it maintains property values. It can help the residents in Alexander Manor, McCauslen Manor, Lawson Estates and Hawthorne Court,” he noted.

In other business, Petrossi said bids were opened Monday for demolitions and are under review.

“We are also looking at a tree maintenance policy as well as a proposed agreement for organizations who want to adopt a vacant city lot for gardens or other uses,” Petrossi said.