|Posted by Linda Lovell on August 24, 2012 at 5:05 PM|
According to the 2010 Census data, Newark had 8,647 renter-occupied units. Most landlords take good care of their property, but there are slum landlords in Newark. They do not maintain their properties, and these houses are a blight on our communities. Their negligence decreases the property value of every residence and makes this town less than what it could be. We can do something about these conditions to make rentals safer and decent. Rental registration and regular inspections of rental property are part of the answer to this crisis. Involvement of the residents -- whether they are renters, homeowners, business owners or responsible landlords -- is essential.
Some landlords have been fined and property maintenance provisions have been enforced, but too many are getting away with what could be murder. You might remember the Columbus landlord Sam Vasirani, who recently was jailed for 30 days. His building had 20 code violations, and on Christmas Eve, a fire at his property caused the deaths of three people, including a 4-year-old boy. (Columbus Dispatch, June 22) Many wanted a much stiffer jail sentence for the slumlord. A Citizens' Committee on Housing Rights is organizing in Newark and many of us have visited families with low incomes who are living in unsafe conditions. Neighbors and friends have lost jobs or are working for lower wages, and have fewer choices. Why should people in poverty have to live in unsafe housing just to have a roof over their heads?
The property maintenance department in Newark has been working to improve conditions and to get negligent landlords to correct their code and safety violations. There is a housing code here, but the staffing is too inadequate to inspect and enforce regulations. Rental registration would improve this condition and push our communities to protect the safety of renters and all residents.
The Property Maintenance Department reported that from August 2011 to March 2012, they received 426 new complaints and completed over 1,000 inspections. They issued 354 notices of violation, of which 118 were later closed for compliance (a 33 percent success rate). This is good work, but it means that 67percent were not in compliance after notification. An additional, 236 citations/fines were levied for non-compliance issues, but too many are not complying.
A recent Advocate article listed 61 landlords and homeowners with $56,629 in unpaid fines for code violations in Newark. Leading the list were landlords, including Darrell and Lucinda Ellis, who owe $9,570 for nine properties; Heath City Councilmen Jeff Crabil and wife Maxine, who owe $1,467; Manuel and Judy Vela, who owe $1011; and Mark Miller, who owes $3,816 (Newark Advocate, May 27).
Some landlords of Newark are a serious problem. And while our firefighters do a wonderful job of protecting life and property, they have been forced to deal with cutbacks and decreasing benefits. Do we need to wake up to the deaths of another family in a fire because of deteriorating housing conditions and uninspected or unenforced safety violations? I agree with Dick Westbrook, in his recent letter to the editor, that the negligent landlords should be put in jail and have their property taken away.
Some of us, who are homeowners and renters on the city's Rental Registration Committee, took a trip to Sandusky, at our own expense, to look at that community's rental registration and see how it was working. We came away impressed with its success, and the involvement of renters and landlords in improving housing conditions. So far, we have heard only opposition from Newark's landlords, but we could learn from Sandusky's successful experience. Soon, the Rental Registration Committee will propose legislation to the Newark City Council.
This is not a Republican or a Democrat proposal, but a proposal for all the people. Many people in our city council and local government are landlords, real-estate agents or insurance agents who directly and financially benefit from an unregulated rental market. For this reason, I believe they should not be involved in voting for or against a rental registration proposal. They have a conflict of interest and should recuse themselves from this decision making process. For the rest of us and our government officials who are not involved in the multimillion dollar rental business, it is important to support rental registration.
David Greene reside in Newark.