Planning commission to review proposals

STEUBENVILLE – Planning and zoning commission members will continue to review and discuss two proposed ordinances dealing with rental unit mandatory inspections and legislation to allow residents to petition to establish a neighborhood conservation district limiting future rental registration for single-family detached dwellings.

The planning commission is set to meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the City Council chambers.

“We are encouraging landlords, residents and businesses and anyone else with a concern or interest in the proposed legislation to attend the planning commission meeting to establish a dialog. We want to have a discussion regarding the issues surrounding the inspection of rental properties,” said Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi.

“We hope to establish a discussion that can continue regarding these issues,” added Petrossi.

According to Petrossi, the rental unit mandatory inspection proposed ordinance would apply under certain conditions, including if two or more notices and orders to comply with the property maintenance code have been issued to the property owner within any two year period.

“Additional conditions are if the property owner has been convicted of a violation of the property maintenance code and if the owner has had a premise ordered demolition pursuant to the property maintenance code all premises and structures with a rental unit the property owner owns shall be subject to semi-annual mandatory inspections,” said Pretrossi.

“The City Council recognizes most landlords in the city are good landlords who maintain their property. This legislation is designed to address the worst of the worst. We actually had legislation adopted in 2007 that dealt with the property maintenance code. This legislation gives the landlord the right to refuse an inspection and the city would have to seek an administrative warrant. And this will really only apply to three to four landlords who don’t maintain their rental properties,” declared Petrossi.

Petrossi said his office has filed 927 property maintenance code violations since 2008.

“Of those cases, 433 were owner occupied residences, The second most number of cases were 248 abandoned buildings and then 221 residential rentals. Nearly 97 percent of the noncompliance cases were abandoned houses. We had 242 cases of noncompliance from abandoned houses followed by 145 cases of owner occupied structures and 12 residential residences,” cited Petrossi.

“We modeled our legislation after similar laws in Akron, which is a larger city and also has a small minority of landlords who don’t follow the maintenance code. This isn’t an answer to all issues but it is a tool we can use,” Petrossi said.

“The biggest problem we have with the property maintenance code violations are vacant structures. And the council has already addressed that issue with legislation. We are still in the education process with that ordinance,” Petrossi noted.

He said the planning commission also will discuss proposed legislation to allow neighborhood residents to file a petition seeking to limit future rental registration for single family detached dwellings.

“If a valid petition is filed with our office the planning and zoning commission will hold a public hearing and forward a recommendation to City Council for a final decision. This would not eliminate rental housing in that neighborhood but would establish a neighborhood conservation district,” said Petrossi.

The planning commission members have discussed the two proposed ordinances at two prior meetings.

“Under the language in the rental inspection ordinance, if a landlord stays out of trouble they don’t face inspections. We don’t want to harass the landlords,” observed Commission Chairman Bill Hendricks.

Hendricks also has urged area landlords to attend the planning commission meeting Monday night to make their feelings known.

“I see this as a tool. I can only think of a handful of times since 2008 when we would have had to use language like this. I don’t see it being used daily. But it is there to be used if need be. The vast majority of landlords who came to past meetings are not the problem. Most landlords have addressed problems,” said Petrossi.

“I really respect the ordinance and think it is long overdue. But how do we prevent a back lash from the landlord organization. I am asking that we be fair about everything. I don’t want to overwhelm the landlords or appear to punish them on everything. We have to treat our landlords like any other business. It is important how the city leaders come across on this issue. It is important we and the landlord association understand each other. I also don’t think the landlords should be responsible for water they don’t use,” Commission member Teresa DiCarlantonio has said.

DiCarlantonio also questioned a second proposed ordinance allowing neighborhood residents to petition and then vote to limit future rental properties in their district.

“If you own a home and you want to sell your house under this ordinance it will be more difficult to sell your house,” Commission member Eric Exley said at the March meeting.

“The legislation is similar to ordinances already in place in other communities. Current rental properties would be grandfathered. But residents could vote to keep the number of rental properties at the current number. This will allow residents in a neighborhood to vote to freeze the number of rental properties,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Mike Johnson who researched the issue.

“I also believe we should enforce the maintenance property code throughout the city,” added Johnson.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs, who chairs the council planning committee, said conversations with the landlords in the city are important to allow the city and the landlords to understand each other.

“We need conversations so we can discuss the issues and reach an understanding,” stated Suggs.