City leaders have given initial approval to a proposal that would require landlords to register with the city.

Columbus City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to require rental property owners to pay a one-time fee of $5 per rental property parcel within Columbus. To become effective, the ordinance must be approved a second time, with the final vote expected Feb. 6.

City Councilwoman Laurie Booher cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she feared the legislation would open the door for more fees in the future. Booher said she had received many phone calls and emails from individuals about the program, many of them who had cited concerns with the plan.

The approval came after two amendments were introduced and approved — making the fee a one-time charge instead of annually, removing a requirement that landlords provide a complete home address.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

The standing-room-only meeting in the council chambers drew more than 50 people, 27 of whom addressed the council during two hours of testimony. Seventeen voiced opposition, while the remaining were primarily in favor.

The rental registration program was proposed to get contact information into the hands of public safety agencies, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development.

The information would also be used to communicate with property owners for code violation resolutions that arise, she said. Under the proposal, property owners would have to submit an application to the city with the name of a property owner or agent, a mailing address and phone number.

The program also would serve as a benefit to landlords, tenants and neighborhoods in Columbus, said Robin Hilber, community development programs coordinator with the city.

Hilber pointed to several incidents last year within the city as a justification for the registry, including a homeless person living inside an empty rental property. The ordinance would reduce unauthorized people — such as squatters, burglars or vandals — from being on property, she said.

Landlords also will benefit since they can be notified of incidents involving property damage stemming from storms that might occur, Hilber said.

Information provided by landlords would be more up-to-date and accurate than what’s available through other sources such as the county’s GIS system, she said.

Columbus’ proposal was drafted after reviewing what’s required in 16 other cities with rental registration programs, city officials said. The ordinance would not require inspections.

Councilman Tom Dell contended the registry was necessary for public safety agencies.

“Without that information, they can’t effectively do their jobs,” Dell said.

Columbus Police Department Capt. Brian Wilder agreed.

“We want to contact the keyholder whether it’s 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Wilder said.

Information submitted by landlords to the city’s Community Development office would be forwarded to the police department to be placed into an internal database. The information would be shared internally within the county’s Emergency Operations Center and the city’s police and fire departments, according to the city.

Landlords speak out

Landlord Ken Patton was critical of the proposal and suggested owner-occupied residences should also be required to register.

“Let’s do it for everybody,” Patton said.

Patton also was critical of Councilwoman Elaine Wagner’s assertion that of the 752 code enforcement violations in Columbus last year, more than 500 of those were linked to rental properties. Many landlords have attempted to provide a good service in trying to clean up the city, he said.

Brad Grayson, president of the Bartholomew County Landlord Association, also addressed council members about privacy concerns tied to the information that would be required by the city under the proposal.

“We’re asking you to protect the power you have and the authority you have to protect our rights,” Grayson said. “If this is such a good thing, make it voluntary.”

Expressing his disappointment with the council’s decision, Grayson said: “If this is so important, then shouldn’t every person be protected in that manner?”

Doug Harrison, a retired firefighter with the city of Columbus, was among individuals who spoke during the meeting against the proposal.

Harrison said he also thought the registry should be mandated for everyone in the city, not just landlords with private rental properties. Landlords such as himself will have to pass the $5 registration fee onto tenants if the legislation becomes enacted, Harrison said.

“Remember, government never takes all your freedoms at once, they take $5 bites out at a time,” Harrison said.

Christopher Rutan, a landlord, property owner and coordinator of the Ninth Street Neighborhood Park Watch, said he supports the rental registration program being in place that he believes would help make the community safer.

“We want to see our neighborhoods cleaned up,” Rutan said.

Council compromise

City Councilman Frank Miller had proposed amending the ordinance that would not require individuals to submit a personal home address to the city. In addition, a $5 annual registration fee per parcel was changed to a one-time fee that property owners would have to pay unless the property changes hands.

Both of those changes were approved 6-1 by the council, with Booher voting against the amendment.

Booher said after the meeting she voted against the legislation because she felt the $5 fee could be raised in the future.

A final vote on the legislation is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 6 in council chambers. If approved, mandatory registration would likely take effect in March.

“For me, it’s a way to get more paperwork involved,” Booher said. “For some people, $5 is a lot of money.”

However, she also said she felt the registry wouldn’t change how public safety agencies do their jobs. Booher said police and fire personnel will still respond to issues even if they can’t get in touch with a landlord.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop said he felt the council acted appropriately after listening to those who addressed them, saying he felt they were able to reach middle ground on the issue.

“I think they did a good job,” Lienhoop said.

Miller also said he felt the changes he brought forward to the council was a good compromise to address concerns some individuals had.

“I think what we did tonight with the amendment was for safety,” he said.

Penalties starting at $100 for the first violation per parcel after the first 30 days would be assessed for individuals who don’t register and would increase to $250 per parcel and then $500 per parcel after 90 days.

What's next

A final reading of a city ordinance calling for a proposed $5 landlord registration fee, creating a landlord registry, will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 6 in city council chambers.

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com