By Kalea Hall
Township officials are moving ahead on a measure to tackle rental property issues.
They hope to enact a new resolution setting up a landlord registry program to better serve Boardman neighborhoods.
“We want to make sure our homeowners and our landlords are responsible,” said Trustee Tom Costello. “We have between 4,000 to 5,000 rental properties, and in order to keep value up, these have to be properly maintained.”
The township already has home-rule resolutions about the maintenance of the exterior of a premises. The new landlord registry will allow township inspectors to randomly check a percentage of rental properties to make sure interior regulations are not violated.
“Because we are home rule, we can [enact] a landlord registry like cities do,” said Sarah Gartland, township zoning inspector. “The biggest point about enacting it is getting contact information on every landlord.”
Before Gartland’s becoming zoning inspector in May 2013, township officials sought ways to create a landlord registry system. First, there needed to be staffing for it and steps to ensure the program is implemented correctly.
“We had to make sure we fully understood it,” Costello said.
Maureen O’Neil, Youngs-town’s neighborhood improvement coordinator, sees the city’s landlord registry program as a “neighborhood stabilizing activity.”
“Our goal is healthy neighborhoods and stable neighborhoods,” O’Neil said.
There are now 4,300 rental units registered in Youngstown, she said.
In the city’s program, landlords are charged $40 per property. If an owner has a multi-unit structure, it is $40 for the first unit and $35 for any additional units. If the owners do not register, then the city issues penalties for noncompliance.
The city also schedules inspections for the interior and exterior of a structure.
“We are really interested in making sure relationships are positive between the landlords and the tenants,” O’Neil said.
Boardman Township has worked with Atty. Mark Finamore, who has represented several townships in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, on the legislation for the resolution.
The goal is to eliminate the “absentee landlord,” Gartland said.
The program, when approved by the trustees sometime this year, would require the rental property owners in Boardman to pay a fee to register their properties. The fee would pay the cost for the township to maintain the records and fund the program in general.
Part-time staff will be added to help inspectors in the office so they have more time out in the field.
Zoning inspectors would then randomly check a percentage of the properties registered annually to make sure the structures are up to minimal living conditions. Included in these standards are that the floors, ceilings and walls are structurally sound, the doors and windows can shut, and that residents have working heat and hot and cold water.
“Things you think are obvious,” Gartland noted, “but that we are finding are not.”
Gartland was called to an apartment at 127 Shields Road by Boardman police in early February after they discovered an apartment, at that time, did not have running water or heat. The listed owner of the apartment unit is Domenic Battaglia of Bay Village in Cuyahoga County.
Gartland said she has sent letters to him and has yet to hear a response.
Battaglia denied the accusation of no running water or heat in the apartment and called it “absurd” when contacted by The Vindicator.
“I think landlords should be held responsible for the buildings,” Battaglia said about the landlord registry program.
If the rental properties are not in compliance with interior codes, then the zoning department could issue a citation with a fine with the new regulation. The cost for a landlord to register and the costs associated with fines have yet to be determined.
Costello was adamant that this program is not about collecting fines.
“We don’t want the money; we want the [problem] to be fixed,” Gartland added.
The listed property owner of 87 Willow Drive, Yash Investments LLC, has been contacted and fined by the township for violating exterior standards.
Albert J. Yash of Jefferson in Ashtabula County is listed as the defendant in a civil case in Mahoning County Court in Boardman for failing to maintain the exterior of the premises. In August 2013, the court found Yash in violation and fined him $250. A judgment entry was sent to Yash and returned from the post office, according to court records.
Boardman court confirmed Yash has yet to pay the fine.
Yash could not be reached for this story.
“Good landlords with no worries need to be on this, too, because this is how we prevent their properties from going down,” Gartland said. “The only way we can [identify] bad rentals — the rentals that are deplorable — is if we register all rentals.”
Rental property owner Rob Pennell, 77, of Boardman is all about preserving the integrity of the neighborhoods, but he does not want to have to pay to register his property.
“I agree with maintaining the integrity of the neighborhoods, but that’s why I am paying taxes,” Pennell said. “I don’t agree with them charging me. That’s double-dipping.”
A landlord registry also is seen as a tool for tackling crime. There is often an overlap of properties with zoning violations and police department calls.
“This is a way of having an across-the-board visible standard for the township,” Gartland said.
In March, Boardman police arrested two men after they searched two separate apartments at 8131 Stadler Ave. Brian Malysa, 30, was charged with possession of heroin, cultivating marijuana, possession of dangerous drugs, two counts of possession of Schedule III drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia. Akira Jackson, 31, was charged with tracking in heroin in the vicinity of a juvenile, illegal possession of weapons, possession of cocaine, possession of drug-abuse instruments and paraphernalia.
Malysa was indicted by a grand jury on charges of possession of heroin and illegal cultivation of marijuana in April, according to Vindicator records.
The owner of 8131 Stadler Ave. is listed as Lynch Investments LTD of Cortland, and the company could not be reached for a comment.
The idea is to “make Boardman a place where criminal activity couldn’t really flourish,” Gartland said.
If the value of the properties improves, then some neighborhoods would be less desirable for criminals.
“It will help us keep a little better watch on some of the rental properties we have,” said Jack Nichols, Boardman police chief.
Outside of enacting a landlord registry, Gartland has rezoned seven neighborhoods so far from Residential 2 to Residential 1 to prevent multiplexes and duplexes from coming in single-family home neighborhoods.
Costello said there will be public hearings on the new home-rule resolution for a landlord registry.
“We would rather spend our energy and make [landlords] accountable before the property has fallen apart and get ahead of the deteriorating conditions,” Gartland said.