Surrey landlords speak out against rent ordinance

5-19-17 Surry Twp Ord Letter

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

In a Facebook post Monday, Surrey Township renter Erica Jamison asks for help to find a new place to live. She said, “So we received this letter in the mail today from our landlord. I guess the Good Lord has decided we need to move sooner than planned.”

The copy of the letter from Edwin L. McNeilly that she posted read, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, Surrey Township is enacting regulations to all rental homes requiring registration and inspection fees, along with requirements that all [rental] homes be brought up to code as if they were newly constructed. This would be very costly, and an expense that I see [as] unnecessary. Therefore I will be selling all of my rental houses located in Surrey Township.”

McNeilly is not the only landlord in the township that is upset over the rental inspection ordinance and fees approved at the last two township meetings.

Surrey Township landlords, represented by Eunice Andreas, asked the Review for a chance to express their side of the issues with the recent rental inspection ordinance and fees adopted recently by the Surrey Township Board.

In last week’s Review, the Surrey Township Board heard a list of concerns outlined by Andreas about the recent Rental Inspection Ordinance that was approved at their March meeting.

When an owner or occupant complains, or because of referral from the Police Department or other agencies or an individual, the ordinance allows an inspector to conduct an inspection and issue a citation requiring the owner or owner’s agent to “correct violation within a specified time” or upon a “final notice” be ordered to vacate the property. The Building Official is also able to declare a residential rental structure or unit unfit for human occupancy.

The rental inspection fees were set at the April meeting. They are:

Single family $84.00; Duplex $94.00; Multiple units $66.00 base plus $19.00 per dwelling unit; and Hotels/Motels $173.00 base plus $10.00 per guest room.

Re-Inspection fees are: 1st Re-inspection $50; 2nd Re-inspection $100; 3rd Re-inspection $200; and 4th Re-inspection $500.

Violation inspection fees are: Complaint violation notice $50; No-show for inspection appointment $50; Notice to vacate $60; Housing Board of Appeals $70;

Unregistered rental violation $2,500; Enforcement letter $50; Non-Compliance of address change $50; and a $5,000 fee for each additional violation.

Rental Re-certification prior to the last certificate expiration will be $40 and after the certification expiration will be $60.

Miscellaneous fees include: Occupant load license $7; Copying costs 1st page and 20 cents for each additional page; Township attorney case review referral $250 plus court and legal fees; Initial hearing $150; and Re-hearing $100.

Andreas’s list of concerns were not available after last week’s meeting although Surrey Township Clerk Glenna Bradbury said, “Her main concern was the fee schedule adopted by the board. She said she didn’t feel we were being ‘fair’ to the landlords.”

Bradbury continued, “We had told her previously that that was not our intention. We (the board) feel that we do need to have an ordinance in place that regulates rental conditions and that makes it safe and healthy for all renters. We want it to be fair for everyone.” At the meeting Andreas read from Surrey landlords list of concerns, saying she was speaking on behalf of the majority of the landlords. She said, “We got together and discussed many of the issues that we found with this ordinance.”

She continued, “First, I would like to say we would ask that you vote this ordinance out as fast as you voted it in! This ordinance is not going to solve the problem that you say it is for. As you state in the first paragraph of the ordinance “…residential rental units are in a state of disrepair and are not in compliance with REQUIREMENTS of applicable housing and building codes and other ordinances of the Township of Surrey”…if this is the case, why not just enforce the existing codes and ordinances—if you can’t enforce those, how do you propose to enforce this ordinance—I see it as a way to make money…nothing more! We were told that this was a work in progress—this should not have been made a law if it was not ready.”

She said the ordinance was done without people knowing about it. “Where was the public hearing on this, notice in the paper, or how about you sending the landlords that you have on a registry a letter asking for input?”

“…Since it only pertains to landlords, why would we not be consulted?”

She said, “I see Russ (Russ Hamilton Township Supervisor) nearly every day, I see Rod (Rod Williams Zoning Administrator) at other meetings and I see you, Ken (Board Member Ken Pitchford), at the restaurant a couple times a week. Not one of you said anything to me about this.” Addressing the board, she said, “Russ, you came to my house and asked me to sit on the appeals board because you need a landlord on it, you should have had our input on the ordinance as well.”

She called the ordinance language “ambiguous,” and open to interpretation. “Who is going to make the judgement calls on the things that are not clearly spelled out?”

“You state that many of the complaints about blight, code violation and fire codes are about rentals,” she said. “Do you have the numbers to back that up?”
She asked what the percentage of [complaints] was for rentals versus owner occupied homes.

She said, “When I directly asked how many complaints they have gotten, Esther (Pitchford – Treasurer) said, ‘Oh, we get a lot,’ [but] when I asked if they were about rentals or owner occupied, no one knew.”

“You state that the township has a valid interest in protecting the property values—-Why only Rentals—are you saying that the 150 or so rentals are dropping the property values more than the 500 or so owner occupied houses that look just as bad if not worse? And you state that the cost of inspecting rentals is not excessive in relation to the importance of the public benefit —by whose standards?”

Regarding the check list for inspections, she said, “Did any of you read this? I will bet that not one of your houses would pass everything on this list.” Again speaking to the board, she said, “Russ, would you take this to your house and tell me how many violations you have? If a landlord refuses to abide by this, what are you going to do—do you have the funds to go thru with prosecution? What if the tenant refuses entry? Are we responsible for that?”

Why do the landlords have full responsibility for all fees—In Mt. Pleasant the tenants are held responsible for things they caused—if you say this is following their ordinance why did this part get left out?”

In an interview, she said, “At the beginning of my time, I gave each board member a copy of letters from my tenants stating their opinion of the inspections. Not one of them wants anyone coming into their house to do this. Only one person at the meeting stood and said anything in favor of the ordinance, and she really didn’t say she was in favor of it, she just took issue with the fact that I said we didn’t take any pay from our rentals.”

During the second Public Comment portion of the May 9 meeting, Bradbury said last week that two township residents spoke in favor of the ordinance. Board member Kevin McDivett, who lives in Hill Haven Subdivision, also added that he has already seen a positive difference in his neighborhood because of the ordinance.
Andreas questioned who would be doing inspections, since Williams is overworked. She also said the fees are overpriced and not comparable to Mt. Pleasant, which has student housing and higher priced rentals. “How do you justify that?” she said.

After listing concerns over blight being enforced for just rentals, not having the opportunity to fix problems or being held responsible for things they aren’t aware of, and questioning why the Township is not willing to cover the [inspection] costs, she said, “No one would answer any of my direct questions or make a comment of any kind. We have fixed up nine homes in the township that were un-livable and made them into very nice homes.”

She said, “We provide affordable housing in the area. If they [the township] charge us these fees, we have to pass along those charges. We have people that have trouble paying rent now.”

After last week’s meeting, Bradbury said Williams had asked for and obtained a copy of the list of concerns that Andreas had addressed to the board. “We are willing to look into it,” she said. She added, “We didn’t address the individual items she listed after her presentation, but we did agree to revisit some of the items in the ordinance that she has concerns with.”

 

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