SALISBURY – The city and the Neighborhood Services Code Compliance (NSCC) board currently face 50 appeals involving non-complaint and delinquent property owners, due to the costs in fees to register rental properties.
According to NSCC Director Tom Stevenson, in January of this year the city solicitor’s office advised the Mayor and Council of an assessment performed to evaluate the reasonableness of the rental registration fees for noncompliant or delinquent rental property owners.
The assessment examined data from 2008, 2009, and 2010 and revealed that the cost is less than what was originally calculated when the registration was formed in 2005. There are currently 50 appeals pending that were submitted by noncompliant or delinquent rental unit owners and nearly every owner argues the fees are too much.
Stevenson explained that since the inception of the program it has gone through a series of changes. In 2006, the legislation was changed to require properties built before 1950 be registered with the city so those properties could be inspected in health and safety conditions for its tenants and legislation was changed at that time that those properties needed to be re-registered and a fee schedule was set.
In March of 2007, when a number of property owners failed to comply by the March 1 deadline, additional legislation was passed in what was known at that time as an extension. That legislation was set again as well as another fee schedule.
That fee schedule is a non-compliant owner would be charged $200 for a non-compliant license, which is a license that is not renewed by the March 1 deadline. If that owner had units that also missed the deadline, then they fall into a non-compliant unit status and that was fee was set at $200 as well. The cost for becoming a delinquent owner was $500 for a license and $500 to register a delinquent unit.
“There were two sets of property owners at that time in 2007 when the legislation was passed,” Stevenson said. “There were those owners that were in the database, meaning they were registered the year before and failed to renew their license and there were owners not in the data base so the extension provided them the opportunity to basically come into compliance by the end of the calendar year. If they failed to do that, they became considered what at that time was referred to as a delinquent owner.”
Stevenson said that the 35 percent of the appeals in 2008 were for non-complaint or delinquent owners, 68 percent of the appeals in 2009 were for fees, and 62 percent in 2010 and 98 percent up to this time in 2011 are also in direct relation to fees.
He presented the council with the NSCC’s request to adjust the fee schedule. Now that the program has been in effect for five years, the board has come to agree on a more appropriate fee schedule. The new fees proposed include non-compliant licensee $65, delinquent licensee $135, non-compliant rental dwelling registration for one unit $65 and $3.25 for each additional unit, delinquent registration of rental dwelling unit for one unit $135 and $6.50 for each additional unit.
“We think this is a reasonable compromise given that we have had the opportunity now to study the actual costs of the program,” Stevenson said. “This particular piece of legislation would go back retroactively and correct any non-complaint or delinquent owners for 2011 which would have an impact on those 50 appeals that are currently sitting.”
The council discussed adding a timeline to the proposed amendment to clarify when a property owner would become considered non-compliant or delinquent. The council considered adding 30 days after deadline an owner would become non-complaint and 60 days after deadline an owner would then become delinquent. The council agreed to move the revisions to rental registration fees towards ordinance form.
Stevenson also revealed that the NSCC is facing challenges when attempting to inspect rental dwellings. According to Stevenson, during the first three quarters of the fiscal year of 2011 the board’s random inspection program results are 520 total requested, 198 performed, 332 refused or did not respond, and a 38 percent success rate.
Council Vice President Deborah Campbell suggested inspecting rental properties at the time that the tenants turn over or when there is no occupancy.
“I think in doing that you would accomplish your goal in being code compliant and in time you’re being sensitive to the fact that this is someone’s home,” she said.
Councilwoman Eugenie Shields was concerned over the privacy of the tenants. She said that as a tenant herself, if a group of people were to come in to inspect her home there would be fear factors involved.
“I think a tenant should have the right of refusal,” she said.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell suggested long-term renters should be approached every three to four years as a minimum to have the property inspected.
“My concern is the safety of that person, of that tenant,” Mayor James Ireton said. “Why wouldn’t you want them to come in and make sure the place that this person is living is safe?”