By David Skolnick
Youngstown is doubling its rental-property registration fee to fund a program that’s grown to include stronger code-enforcement of all housing laws, says the city’s neighborhood- improvement coordinator.
Beginning Jan. 1, the annual fee for rental- property owners will go from $20 per unit to $40.
If a property is a multifamily dwelling, the first unit will go to $40, and each addition unit in the structure will increase by 67 percent: from $15 to $25 at the beginning of the year.
The amount of activity has grown from registering and inspecting rentals when it began in September 2010 to now being a resource for landlords and tenants for housing issues, focusing on code-enforcement of all residential properties as well as inspections, said Maureen O’Neil, neighborhood-improvement coordinator.
“My office looks at the entire housing stock in the city,” she said. “We’re emphasizing the exteriors of all properties — rental, vacant and owner- occupied. A large part of the focus is on making the city look good.”
The increase isn’t sitting too well with some property owners.
“This is a city overwhelmed by vacant, unwanted properties,” said James Pierko, secretary of the Mahoning Valley Real Estate Investors Association, a local landlord organization. “The city should be doing everything it can to encourage capital investments to improve these homes. This [additional fee] is counterproductive. Someone interested in buying properties may look elsewhere where they don’t have to put up with unnecessary fees.”
Pierko, a real-estate agent with Howard Hanna, added: “Maybe city council wants more vacant, abandoned buildings to tear down.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Michael G. Anderson, owner of Gander Properties LLC, which owns Gypsy Lane Manor and Northwood Apartments in the city. Between the two, there are about 150 units.
“It’s not fair to those of us in the business,” he said.
Even with the new fee, O’Neil said Youngstown charges less than several other communities.
The cost in Warren is $84 per unit and $70 for additional units in a multifamily structure. Those numbers are $200 and $150 in South Euclid, and $100 and $75 in Solon.
“This program has become a valuable resource for residents who rent property in Youngstown,” O’Neil said. “When we invest in our neighborhoods, we invest in our housing market, and we improve and increase the value of our housing stock.”
The city collected $72,455 in rental-registration fees so far this year. It received $79,900 in 2011.
Youngstown is collecting registration fees from about 4,400 rental-property owners. The total number of rental properties in the city is about 6,000, O’Neil estimated.
Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, a longtime advocate for property registration in the city, said, “Every bit of the money goes back into the program. We are really low with our fee. It’s not to create revenue. The goal is to make it self-sustaining.”
In July, the city implemented an annual $100 registration fee for vacant properties.
The city sent letters to the owners of about 2,200 vacant structures requiring registration. There are about 1,800 to 2,300 more in the city.
The fee is being waived during the first year if owners secure all doors and windows, make sure there is no trash and debris on the property, maintain the lawn, and an address is clearly visible.