Coun­cil ta­bles ad­min war­rants

Con­sid­er­ing third-party rental in­spec­tions in­stead

Newark Post - - Front Page - By KARIE SIM­MONS ksim­mons@ches­pub.com

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.”

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