Council tables admin warrants
Considering third-party rental inspections instead
It appears Newark landlords and city officials are close to a compromise on inspecting rental properties for health and safety concerns.
On Monday night, city council directed staff to stop seeking a state code amendment that would let the city obtain warrants allowing code enforcement officers to enter rental properties where tenants had previously denied an inspection, and instead focus on drafting a city ordinance to allow private, third- party inspectors to evaluate rental properties.
The decision to switch gears comes just a few months after council directed the city’s lobbyist to pursue administrative warrants. At the time, city officials were at a loss of what to do about the number of rental properties behind on their annual inspections, which are required by code and check for health and safety concerns like working smoke detectors and secure railings. Tenants don’t legally have to let code enforcement officers inside, and last year, approximately 40 percent of units were not inspected.
After hearing about the state bill, many Newark landlords were
outraged at the idea of the government entering their properties without their consent and spoke out publicly against it, urging the city to compromise by letting them hire their own inspectors.
The bill ultimately failed to obtain sponsors before the end of the legislative session, prompting city officials to go back to the table and come up with a different solution. After meeting with the Newark Landlord Association, staff began drafting an ordinance for third- party inspectors.
According to the ordinance, inspectors cannot be city employees and must be approved and licensed by the city to perform inspections for rental properties. They must at least be certified by the American Association of Code Enforcement, the International Code Council or the Board of Home Inspectors and have state and city business licenses before applying for an inspection license from the city.
During an inspection, the inspector has to use a cityapproved rental inspection checklist to make sure the property meets all applicable code requirements. Violations have to be addressed within 20 days of the inspection, or the city can revoke the property’s rental permit.
Properties will need to be inspected both before a rental permit is issued and annually for rental license renewal, but it will be the owner or landlord’s responsibility to schedule those inspections and allow the inspector to come inside. Fraternity and sorority houses, however, can only be evaluated by a code enforcement official.
Private inspectors will be held to strict standards and must reapply annually to renew their license.
The ordinance states that at least two inspections per year have to be accompanied by a code official, and the code official can reinspect any property to assure the inspector’s sufficiency and accuracy. The city can revoke inspectors licenses at any time if they are not doing a good job as well as deny their license renewal, and both can be appealed to the Board of Building, Fire, Property Maintenance and Sidewalk Appeals.
City Manager Carol Houck said Monday that she sees the ordinance as an “alternate effort” to seeking a state code amendment in the general assembly for administrative warrants and recommended council take a pause on pursuing their previous path.
“Lets see how this effort to revise the existing ordinance plays out,” she said.
Councilwoman Jen Wallace agreed.
“We can always go back to it if council so desires, but we have a potential fix,” she said, adding that she would like to hear how tenants feel about third-party inspections before voting on the ordinance.
Local landlord John Bauscher, who owns properties on White Clay Drive, Madison Drive and Phillips Avenue and has previously spoken out against administrative warrants, said Monday that if the city continues to pursue a state code amendment, they will be “messing with the Constitution.”
He said he doesn’t understand why the rental inspections are even necessary.
“I’ve had hundreds of them and I’ve never been that impressed with any of them to be honest with you,” he said.
Wallace made a motion to suspend administrative warrant efforts pending consideration of a final draft of the ordinance for private third-party rental inspections, which passed 6 to 1 with Councilman Stu Markham as the opposing vote.
On Wednesday, Kevin Mayhew, president of the Newark Landlord Association, said he is “very pleased” with the ordinance, as well as the city’s willingness to work with the landlords, rather than against them. He has been a proponent of hiring thirdparty inspectors ever since council started talking about administrative warrants back in April.
Mayhew said the city’s requirements for inspectors are reasonable and he doesn’t mind that a code official has to accompany the inspector on at least two visits a year.
“It’s just checks and balances,” he said.
The next steps are to figure out how much private inspectors will cost and what kind of credits landlords will receive on their rental permit fees for participating. Mayhew said they also need to go over the city’s rental inspection checklist.
“So far, it’s a great starting point,” Mayhew said. “This is a great outcome and this is what we wanted as a landlord association.”
Houck expects the draft ordinance will be revised within the next two weeks before it is placed on a council agenda for a first reading.
If it fails, State Rep. Paul Baumbach said council could come back to the original administrative warrant bill at any time.
“It had a failure to launch,” he said. “It didn’t get to the point where it could expire. It never started.”