By DAVID SKOLNICK
A real-estate organization is asking the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to stop the city’s rental-registration program, contending it is unconstitutional.
The Mahoning Valley Real Estate Investors Association filed a request Wednesday for a temporary restraining order and for a preliminary-injunction hearing. Magistrate Eugene J. Fehr rejected the TRO request Thursday and scheduled the hearing for 2 p.m. July 13.
“We’re very confident there will be a dismissal before the 13th,” said city Prosecutor Jay Macejko. “We’re pretty confident, should the hearing go forward, we’ll prevail.”
Mark Hanni — attorney for the 70-member association and its president, Sherry DeMar — wrote in the complaint that the program is unconstitutional because it’s “vague,” violates “the property owners’ right to be free from unreasonable searches,” and the program “is not a valid exercise of the city’s power to license.”
Also, Hanni contends the association’s members “will suffer irreparable harm and damage” if the program takes effect.
The program requires those with rental property to pay the city $20 per unit for an annual license. If a property is a multifamily dwelling, the first unit is $20, and each additional unit in the structure is $15.
Landlords had until Wednesday to register with the city. But the city is giving landlords a 15-day grace period to submit registration forms because it’s a new program, said Bill D’Avignon, the city’s community development agency director.
The city hired the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority to do annual inspections of rental units at $15 each, he said.
The plan is to start inspections later this month so if the injunction is denied it won’t have an impact on the program, D’Avignon said.
The city had estimated there are about 6,000 rental properties in the city. But the city was only able to find legitimate addresses for the landlords of about 4,000 units, D’Avignon said.
As of Thursday, land-lords of about 500 units had submitted forms to the city, he said.
“It’s pretty low as far as percentage-wise, but the [investors association] banded together to challenge it” and didn’t return forms to the city, D’Avignon said.
DeMar and Hanni couldn’t be reached Thursday by The Vindicator to comment.
DeMar said last month that the city program does nothing to remove blight, isn’t financially sustainable, and unfairly impacts good landlords.