Rossford talks rental registration

ROSSFORD — A city rental registration and inspection municipal code revision was tabled on the third reading at last week’s council meeting.

If passed, the multi-part revision would eliminate some inspection requirements while increasing penalties that would be enforced by possible property liens.

“While every unit isn’t a problem unit, I do believe the city has a responsibility to explore our current language on inspections and whether or not these eliminations would cede too much of the city’s ability to address problem units and tenants’ concerns,” Councilwoman Brenna Reynolds said in a followup interview.

According to Reynolds, over 27% of Rossford residences were reported as rentals in the collection of 2020 Census data.

Zoning Inspector Mark Zuchowski said the current code was enacted in 2014 to address blight. It was based on a rental property owner registration requirement. The city found that absentee landlords, some of whom could only be contacted by mail at post office boxes as far away as Las Vegas, were allowing deterioration of their properties through their own neglect or that of the renters.

The revision would cover four sections of the current code 726, repealing the current code and then enacting a revised version.

Three sections would be eliminated, including the required interior and exterior inspections, the self-certification inspection program and the third party inspection. The enforcement section would be replaced.

“My concerns are related to the elimination of interior and exterior inspections, the self certification inspection program, and the third party inspection requirement,” Reynolds said. “I am hopeful that after tabling these proposed changes that we can use the time this presents us as an opportunity to engage with the residents of our community whom this would affect.”

Zuchowski recommended the revisions based on cost and enforcement issues. He’s based the recommendations on his own experience, as well as examinations of code differences in Lucas County that he feels are effective.

“They can fine you $150 and they will add it to your property tax twice a year. We would like to add that clause to allow us to fine for rental property owners that do not register and follow the rules,” Zuchowski said. “We would be able to put a lien on the house for that fine.”

He said the current system has helped to clean up the blight, but it could be better. The act of registering contact information is the goal. He said that in 2015 there were 298 single family residences rented in the city and now there are 115.

“The registration is really, really working well. It’s really cleaned up the neighborhoods. We had neighborhoods where 40% of them were rental properties. It made housing attractive enough that single family property owners are buying and they are paying way above what they were 10 years ago and it’s cleaned up the neighborhoods,” Zuchowski said. “But we still need to have people register and we still need to have people to communicate to submit their tenants’ (names) for tax purposes.”

The current system has a $15 fee attached to the registration process, which includes a property owner self inspection form. Landlords who did not register, or do the inspections, were also not paying. Zuchowski said that it would be more expensive than it is worth to use a collections company to go after the money.

“The very good property owners were the one following the law and paid. The bad guys weren’t. They completely ignore the rules,” Zuchowski said. “With all the red tape it was burdensome and it didn’t make any sense.”

Reynolds is looking at how effective a deterrent the $150 fee would be for the level of landlord accountability she would like to see.

Zuchowski said that if the code revision passes, the penalty process would be at the discretion of the Wood County auditor. He expected that it would be likely, as municipalities can already use the process for services that are performed by maintenance departments, such as lawn cutting for neglected properties.

Council did not settle on a date to reconsider the tabled legislation.