Opinion: Blame laid at Lima landlords’ feet for all housing woes

On Sept. 18, Lima City Council will convene as a committee of whole to review draft legislation intended to regulate Lima’s landlords. Dressed up in a deceptively innocuous title, the proposed ordinance is “…regarding rental housing registration.” In effect, it is the regulation and licensing of local business owners. This legislation, as drafted, has no chance of successfully impacting blighted housing in Lima. Unfortunately, it probably has a good chance of passage, since passage on the third reading only requires a simple majority of councilors instead of the usual two-thirds majority. This is tenant-protectionist legislation masquerading as housing regulation while trampling on private property rights.

For too long, landlords have been the scorn of many in the community with blame laid at their feet for all of Lima’s housing woes. Proponents of landlord regulation would have you believe that only two types of housing exist: rental and owner-occupied, and that rental housing is largely substandard and owner-occupied housing is not. This is nonsense.

Blighted housing exists in several forms, including properties being abandoned and left to sit empty by absentee (non-landlord) owners, foreclosed properties held by banks that fail to maintain them properly and, significantly, owner-occupied homes that the owners can either no longer afford to maintain or for whom home maintenance is not a priority. These are all untouched by the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance, as drafted, provides for rental property inspections with the cost borne by the landlord for registration and inspection services by city officials. There are several problems with this. First, any additional costs to landlords will put upward pressure on rents as increased costs are passed on to the customer.

Second, the inspections will, necessarily, be subjective. What, exactly, can one define as substandard for old housing stock? If the structure is safe for habitation, what city official is qualified to determine the necessary changes to move the structure from “substandard” to acceptable? If the structure is not safe for habitation, there are existing city and county departments qualified and authorized by law to make that determination.

Third, property maintenance code enforcement inspectors have clearly demonstrated that local government does not have the capacity through enforcement alone to effect voluntary mass compliance with the community’s desired norms.

Lima City Council and city administration should scrap the proposed legislation and, instead, develop methods to support and promote Lima in ways that will attract developers and investors.

Since 2018, the Blass group of companies, and our investors, have invested approximately $22 million in residential housing with more than half that amount, in excess of $12 million, spent for residential housing renovation and new construction within the City of Lima.

Councilors would better serve the interests of the entire community by reforming Lima’s antiquated zoning codes and the deeply flawed property maintenance codes instead of targeting one segment of the business community for ill-conceived regulation.

Mike Blass’s column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.