OSWEGO, NY – Following nearly a full hour of discussion regarding the possibility of increasing the city’s rental inspection fee, councilors decided to have more discussion.
Jeff McCrobie, fire chief, requested the discussion at the Administrative Services Committee meeting Monday night.
Several landlords in attendance felt the hike from $10 to $50 per unit was way too much.
Members of the OFD are the city’s inspectors as of the first of this year; as the city did away with Code Enforcement on Dec. 31, 2013.
McCrobie said he felt getting the inspections done will help to improve the quality of the homes.
“So what you’re saying is we raised taxes, and take money directly out of their (businessman – landlord) pocket; now you want to raise fees again taking money directly out of their pocket?” asked Councilor Bill Barlow. “You think they’re more prone to add money to their house after we’ve physically taken more money out of their pocket?”
All of these inspections can be done on-duty or farmed out to an independent inspector, McCrobie noted. “If the fire department doesn’t do it and you hire an independent person to do it, I don’t think they’re going to do it for $10.”
It takes about an hour per unit per inspection, he said, adding that there are exceptions – a studio apartment would take less time than a four-bedroom apartment, for example.
“Ten dollars is ridiculously low in my opinion,” said Sue Deary, city assessor. “It’s time to upgrade the fee.
“This is a discussion. No one is making a decision tonight. We’re having a discussion, that’s all it is,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said.
He suggested an option where the fee would remain the same; but if the inspectors had to go back a second (or more) time, the cost would be increased.
Kim VanSchaak said she lives in a neighborhood with a lot of rental units around her.
“From my perspective, there are good landlords and there are not so good landlords. I think if you raise the fee, people are going to take more effort to make sure that they meet the qualifications. There is no way (now) that the city is breaking even by charging $10.”
She suggested establishing a fee that would cover the city’s costs; and if a landlord has a good inspection – give them a discount the following year.
“You’ve already raised our taxes 55% in two years. Now you’re going to squeeze more money out of us? This isn’t a state mandate thing; it’s a city mandate,” said Matthew Brancato, local businessman and landlord. “If it is costing the city so much money, at least, at the very least, give us a choice to possibly hire someone from the private sector who’s already state certified.”
Oswego resident Sue Sweet pointed out that compared to what other cities are probably charging for inspections, “$10 is unheard of. I mean $50 is the norm.”
Some places charge up to $100, she added.
“We need to get real here. These are mini businesses in the city. Inspections have to be done because they are businesses,” she said. “These are businesses. Certain things are expected.”
One landlord objected to having inspections every year, adding that he has never failed one.
There are 5 or 10, maybe 20 percent “bad rentals,” he said. “You’re affecting 100 percent of the rental properties in the city to go after the 5 or 10 percent. There’s no justification for that. It makes no sense whatsoever.”
“It’s still a three-year inspection,” McCrobie pointed out.
“It’s more like 60 percent (bad rentals) in some of the wards and I agree with you that some of these should be condemned. But the problem has been, in the past they haven’t been condemned and there is a huge public safety issue,” Councilor Fran Enwright said.
There were some large homes in his ward lost over the years due to electrical fires because they were being neglected, he added.
Many of the rentals come out “clean as a whistle” following an inspection, Enwright said. “But, then we walk into these places that are horrible, you have to go back and back and back again. And that fee we’re charging covering that; we’re not making any money coming back again and again.”
Those are the places that should be inspected every year until they come up clean as a whistle, he said.
“That would be an incentive for some of these other landlords to raise the level of their places,” he said. “We’ve got to find that middle ground so that you guys aren’t punished and the people that are responsible are. But we have to have these inspections for public safety. I don’t want these places burning down around me.”
The councilors discussed a variety of possible options such as going to a five-year schedule for inspections, using a sliding fee scale, privatizing and others.
Kaplewicz said he’d facilitate a meeting between city officials and landlords to seek a compromise. No specific date was set.
“We need to have a lot more discussion to see if we can find some common ground here,” he said. “We have to get more information before we can make any sort of decision here.”