Berlin Rental Rules Questioned

BERLIN — The Town of Berlin is planning to revamp its housing standards in order to combat issues with rental properties.

“I think there’s more than one problem here,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch during a council work session Monday.

Berlin has a long history with rental properties, the majority of it good, according to the council.
“All of these problems are from a handful of properties,” said Mayor Gee Williams.

The problems he referred to included rental properties in town that did not keep the exteriors of their buildings in good condition, did not provide adequate parking for tenants and produced excessive noise or trash issues, among other things.

Williams maintained that almost all property owners in Berlin followed the law and kept to code, but that there was a “3 percent factor” where an extreme minority refused to stick to the rules.

The problem, he explained, was that any changes in the code meant to bring wayward owners inline would also impact the majority of renters who already followed the regulations.

“We need to set up a law that applies to everyone,” said Williams.

“And we shouldn’t punish everyone who’s done a good job,” added Councilwoman Lisa Hall.

The council agreed that, as far as trouble rental properties went, multi-family dwellings were responsible for the lion’s share, if not entirety, of issues. Williams remarked that he couldn’t think of any instance of a single-family rental property being the cause of complaints.

“The majority of them [problems] have been multi-family,” he said.

Because of the division, the council wondered whether a different set of standards could be set for single- versus multi-family dwellings.

Attorney Mark Tilghman explained that separate standards could not be applied.

“You have a building code which applies to everyone,” he told the council.

However, Tilghman did point out that Berlin could place clauses specific to multi-family dwellings as qualifications for a landlord licensing program. Town Attorney Dave Gaskill informed the council that it could only target some of the complaints.

Objections filed for things like excessive noise or litter from properties are already covered under town law and should be handled by the police, Gaskill said. Exterior building condition and parking, though, could be targeted with ordinance changes, he said.

“There’s a lot of homework here to identify some of these issues,” said Lynch.

The council questioned whether changing town code now would even affect established properties in Berlin.

“Most of these places have been in existence a long, long time,” said Williams.

Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward explained that any changes in code would apply to rental properties when owners renew their annual license. Even after clearing up what could be done, a final question was how alterations would be enforced.

“I think there needs to be really tough limits,” Williams suggested.

As the work session concluded, the council asked Gaskill, Tilghman and Ward to work together to draft an ordinance expressing the ideas that had been discussed that night, especially in regards to setting standards for exterior building conditions and parking. Gaskill said he would have a draft in front of the council within a month.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said.

A second work session was scheduled to review the document on Aug. 15. If it gains council approval then, it could end up on the assembly’s next agenda.

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