Aspects of the city’s rental registration and inspection program received a lengthy airing during Monday’s Bowling Green City Council meeting, focused on the portion of the program dealing with rental self-inspection forms.
“There has been a tremendous amount of work that has gone into this, and I’m proud of that work that has been done,” said Mayor Mike Aspacher during the meeting, subsequently noting that there is still more work to do.
“The inspection forms are a work in progress,” he said. “We are open to modifications.”
Council discussed the issue of rental self-inspection forms, required in the city’s 2021 rental inspection legislation, during their Sept. 18 meeting. At that time, Councilmen Mark Hollenbaugh and Bill Herald said they had heard discussions on the issue recently, with Herald noting that people involved in property management in the city have concerns about the work involved in completing the forms. Aspacher at that meeting said he had heard the same concerns and that his goal was to facilitate feedback on the matter, speak with the administrative team who developed the forms, and then report back to council.
“We do want to make it a process that is not overly burdensome to the property owners,” he said at the Sept. 18 meeting, “but it is important that we gather baseline information.”
At Monday’s meeting, council introduced an ordinance from Councilman Greg Robinette, which would adjust the deadline for the inspection forms to be submitted to Oct. 1 of 2024. The due date listed in the legislation is Oct. 1 of this year, though that date has already been altered to Dec. 31.
During lobby visitation, resident David Drain noted that his family “has a small LLC that rents property. Last week I did an inspection of one of our properties: a three-bedroom, one-story, single unit dwelling. The inspection was not difficult. The checklist is easy to read and the criteria it sets forth are clear. The entire inspection – internal and external – took about 30 minutes. I believe this is a task that could be done by anyone who can read.”
However, he went on, “I only inspected one dwelling unit. If I had 600 units, this would have taken much more time, and perhaps more redundant effort. Perhaps the city should work with some of the larger rental companies to automate some aspects of the inspection process.”
Referring to Robinette’s legislation, he said “I do not see any reason to delay these inspections for an entire year as proposed. The inspections are not difficult, but the need to get them done is urgent: Every time I go out to campaign, I see obvious and sometimes even dangerous problems with properties that this inspection could rectify or prevent. Let’s just get this done.”
Drain is a candidate for council’s First Ward seat in the November election.
During the administrative reports portion of the meeting, Planning Director Heather Sayler and City Attorney Hunter Brown discussed the process that went into the creation of the rental registration and self-inspection program as it was organized by the staff. Sayler described a painstaking and complex process beginning in 2021, involving creating online and physical resources, collecting and inputting data, and other matters.
“It took a lot of time to go through each of these processes,” she said, but noted that 6,463 rental units have been registered – which, with the data currently in the city’s possession, are all the known properties that must be registered. However, with each property transfer, Sayler noted later, those numbers change.
“The move to the next phase was even more complicated,” Sayler said of the self-inspection process, involving designing checklists for the inspections as outlined in the ordinance, and an occupant information handout, among other issues.
She said that as of Monday, over 400 self-inspections have been submitted since the process was made available in mid-September.
“I thought that was really great results so far,” she said.
Brown, noting the timing issues of submitting the inspection documents, and Robinette’s proposed legislation, said “We are very supportive of that.” He said the current deadline is actually Dec. 31 of this year. He further noted this is the first time that the city has attempted this kind of program, and there have been obstacles. They’ve also received feedback on the checklist document – including that some terms may be ambiguous or confusing – which is being reviewed and edits may be coming, Brown said. They want to maintain the integrity of the program, he said, but also make the checklists useable.
“In doing this, we are and have been comparing how other municipalities within the State of Ohio” handle such registration, Brown said. “These are things they develop over a period of many, many years,” such as in the cases of Athens and Oxford. “The fact that we have so many registered already, I think, is a pretty great accomplishment.”
Councilman Jeff Dennis asked Brown about whether any fines for failure to register had been issued. Brown said that there had not, and that the section in the city’s code regarding landlord self-registration discussing penalties for lack of compliance “I believe is unenforceable under Ohio law.” He said that if there is a desire to proceed against properties that aren’t registered, a lawsuit would be needed instead.
Speaking later, Aspacher echoed Brown’s words that while they are open to modifying the rental inspection forms, they also want to stress the importance of maintain the program’s integrity.
“It’s a work in progress,” Aspacher said. “I’m thankful for those residents who have complied” with registration and inspection. “I think that’s been a successful effort.” He said that the vast majority of rental properties in the city have been registered, providing the foundation for the self-inspection program.
“We want to continue to monitor the effectiveness of the program,” and will continue to be open to modifications, Aspacher said.