Why isn't the city inspecting rental units? There's a program, but it isn't operating yet.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Having the utilities shut off because the landlord went bankrupt was a rough enough start to the school year.
But the frustrations weren't over for the Youngstown State University students whom Patricia Dougan represents as a lawyer with Northeast Ohio Legal Services.
The bill finally got straightened out for one group of four students she is helping. The gas company, however, still couldn't turn the service back on. The gas line had multiple leaks.
At least the gas company would fix that.
What the company wouldn't fix was the home's boiler, which was in bad enough shape that services couldn't be returned even if the line into the house was working.
New place to live: The students ended up having to find a new place to live weeks after school started.
The home's condition prompts a question: Why isn't the city inspecting rental units?
The answer is simple: The city would be if its landlord registration program were operating.
In February 1999, city council passed laws that say landlords must register their holdings and pay a $20 license fee for the first unit and $15 for each additional unit, to pay for systematic inspections of rental properties. The program also would provide the money to fund inspections of such properties each time a new tenant moves in.
The program hasn't started yet, however.
First, the law went to court later in 1999. An appeals court finally upheld the law in November 2000.
Since then, the city has given a civil service test to hire a clerk to run the program. Four names recently went to Mayor George M. McKelvey, said Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, who pushed for the law.
Landlords' inquiries: Many landlords are asking about when they can sign up, he said.
Until the program starts, inspections are limited to specific complaints and violations that can be seen from the outside.
The city has far too many rental units to inspect them beyond responding to complaints, said Bill D'Avignon, city deputy director of planning.
Inspectors instead concentrate on violations that can been seen from the street, he said. Those have more of an effect because entire neighborhoods have to endure them, D'Avignon said.
Landlords who rent to college students aren't treated any differently from any others, said Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, whose ward includes many YSU students. Inadequate housing is an issue for renters across the city, not just in the university area, he said.
Landlord registration would fix everything, he said.
Besides protecting tenants from bad housing, the program also protects landlords, he said. For example, if one inspection shows that the walls are in good condition and the next one turns up a big hole, the previous tenant can be held responsible, he said.
Whenever the signup and inspections start, it won't be soon enough, Dougan said.
"It will bode well for my clients and for anyone looking for housing in Youngstown," she said.