City Council members OK requirement of rental property owners to pay fee

Landlords who own private rental properties in Columbus will be required to register with the city starting in May and pay a one-time fee.

Columbus City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to pass an ordinance mandating a fee of $5 per rental property that would also require landlords to provide contact information for an owner or agent to the city.

City Councilwoman Laurie Booher, a landlord who cast the sole vote against the legislation in two separate votes, said she thought the ordinance did not clearly address two issues: landlords who do not clean up their properties and public safety.

“We’re sort of in muddy waters here,” Booher said. “I feel like we have two separate issues.”

The rental-registration program was proposed by the city to get contact information into the hands of police and fire departments, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development. Under the legislation, the city would not require inspections.

“It’s very important that we have an accurate database to share with dispatch,” Columbus Fire Chief Mike Compton said.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 40 people showed up in council chambers to address the council on Tuesday. About 20 of them talked about the proposal, with a similar number either for or against.

Advocates

Christopher Rutan, a landlord, property owner and coordinator of the Ninth Street Neighborhood Park Watch, was among those who urged the council to pass the legislation.

Rutan said he works with the city’s code enforcement office daily to address problems in his neighborhood. He called the rental registration program an attempt to ensure that properties do not endanger one another.

“Everyone deserves proper protection,” Rutan said.

Sheryl Nulph, a homeowner who lives on Franklin Street, also asked the council to pass the ordinance.

Nulph said providing public safety agencies with contact information when make their jobs easier in emergency situations.

“It’s in the best interest of public safety,” Nulph said.

City Councilwoman Elaine Wagner said the information provided to the city by landlords would help resolve code-enforcement issues quicker. Columbus spends about $6,000 a year on certified letters related to code enforcement violations, Hilber said.

City Councilman Frank Miller read an excerpt from a letter by Todd Noblitt, director of the Bartholomew County 911 Emergency Operations Center.

Emergency 911 dispatchers are often asked by public safety personnel to locate contact information for individuals and/or property locations, according to Noblitt’s letter.

While information from internal databases is normally retrieved within a few seconds, additional searches are conducted using external databases that are often time consuming, Noblitt wrote.

“Unfortunately, there are many times that we are unable to provide the assistance that is requested by our first responders,” he wrote.

City Councilman Tom Dell also said public safety agencies need to have access to such contact information immediately.

“It’s imperative that they have that information,” Dell said.

Opponents

Landlords such as Diana Minor, who lives on East State Road 46, voiced opposition to the proposal.

Minor said she didn’t mind the $5 fee, but told the council that she didn’t think providing the requested information to the city was necessary.

Columbus resident Glenn Petri, who is not a landlord, also addressed the council about his opposition to the legislation.

“I do not want to see bigger government,” Petri said.

Fellow resident Chuck Doup asked what information could be obtained by the public if the legislation passed.

Individuals could request specific addresses from the city’s Community Development office, which would maintain the database, said Robin Hilber, community development programs coordinator for the city.

However, the internal database to be shared with public safety agencies would not be accessible by the public, she said.

Booher argued again that the legislation was about two issues: code enforcement vs. public safety.

Booher, who holds an at-large council seat representing the entire city, was also concerned that the city didn’t have an idea of how many landlords there are in Columbus.

“There are loopholes in this (proposal) … and I don’t think this is the right way to do it,” Booher said.

Brad Grayson, president of the Bartholomew County Landlord Association, said after the meeting that he suspects the legislation was driven by other factors, but did not know what those were.

“I think they decided before anyone showed up,” Grayson said.

Penalties

Penalties for landlords who do not register within 30 days of the implementation start at $100 for the first violation per parcel. After each additional 30 days, penalties would increase to $250 per parcel and then to $500 per parcel.

The rental-registration requirement takes effect May 1.

Landlords will have to register with the city’s Community Development Department, which will provide the information to public safety agencies to be entered into an internal database. The database would be shared internally within the county’s Emergency Operations Center and the city’s police and fire departments.

What's next

Landlords who own private rental property will be required to register with the city’s Community Development office beginning May 1. A one-time fee of $5 per parcel will be required, along with contact information of the owner or the owner’s agent.

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