Lima councilors hammering out landlord license program

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — Talks about a potential landlord licensing program for the City of Lima continued Monday night as councilors heard about a proposed program structure and identified items in need of further discussion while addressing potential obstacles.

As chair of the economic and community development committee, Councilor Carla Thompson provided some of the basic groundwork. Under the current proposal, the City of Lima would set a general standard for properties, and an annual licensing program would require interior inspections of their rentals in order for a landlord to do business in the city, Thompson said.

Outside of that general idea, however, much of the proposal is still up in the air. Councilors are planning for a series of working sessions over the next few months to receive input from stakeholders expected to be impacted by the program.

Also under consideration is the program’s costs. If the onus of the program’s work, for example, is to be absorbed by code enforcement workers, they’re going to need to adjust operations in order to properly inspect the city’s rental properties. Thompson expected needing at least a few hires for the program to be successful.

What the city doesn’t want to do, Thompson said, is use the program as a way to pull in revenue.

“Our objective is not to grab dollars. It will go horribly astray. Our goal has to be assisting landlords, assisting tenants and improving the housing stock here in Lima,” she said.

During the online meeting, Councilor Peggy Ehora spoke a number of times about the need for something like a landlord licensing program. When she ran for councilor last fall, she said the most common complaint she heard has been related to Lima’s rental housing and how it allows bad landlords to essentially control the value and appearance of neighborhoods.

She also challenged the assumption that a licensing program would put an unfair burden on good landlords providing solid housing.

“(Landlords say) don’t paint all of us with the same broad stroke. I couldn’t agree more,” Ehora said. “My answer to them is: How do we distinguish one from the other when we don’t have a system to distinguish good landlords from people that aren’t good landlords?”

Other issues raised included potential inspection overlap caused by Allen Metropolitan Housing Authority’s program and how large apartment buildings and row houses would work with the licensing proposal.

Councilor Jon Neeper raised the issue of getting too deep into how the program would work without setting what the rental housing standards will be. He said that landlords that he talked to are worried that the city will ask for pricey upgrades — such as ADA-compliant bathrooms — that will eliminate the ability for landlords to profit from rental housing.

“I know the houses that you’re speaking of that need to be shut down. But I think we need to set a standard of what we’re looking at first before we talk about fees and structure and setting things of that nature,” Neeper said.

Thompson agreed that standards around “uninhabitable” rentals would need to be hammered out as part of the process. Councilors expect to involve both city code enforcement and building department officials in future meetings to better define an acceptable standard.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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