Liverpool puts its focus on rentals

EAST LIVERPOOL – A stringent landlord policy aimed at decreasing crime and keeping rental property maintained is being looked at by City Council’s economic development committee.

The Better Landlord Program (BLP) was proposed by Better City LLC, the Utah-based firm hired by the city to help spur economic development.

The proposal had been kept under wraps from the media and public until this week’s council meeting when the proposed program was brought to light by council President John Torma when it appeared some landlords in attendance might want to discuss the issue.

While opening up the public comment period, Torma advised there would be no comment on a landlord packet proposed by Better City since it had been referred to committee and would be discussed when and if a recommendation was made or, when all of council wanted to discuss the matter.

Regardless, Dave Damaso, president of the East Liverpool Landlords Association, offered a prepared statement in which he called the proposal a “good starting point for many issues,” cautioning that it “will need worked and reworked to meet the city’s goals.”

Damaso said that, with predictions of increased economic development in the area, it is “time to get the ball rolling” and that he believes the plan can move forward with everyone working together.

Ohio Avenue resident Linda Ziegler, also a landlord, referred to an analysis included in the Municipal Services Study that served as the impetus for the landlord program.

Although Torma reminded her he wanted no discussion on the issue that night, Ziegler insisted on being heard, saying the 1,485 rental properties referred to in the study is higher than the 900 rental licenses issued by the city.

She asked for raw data, saying that until the figures can be reconciled, the study must be considered inaccurate.

Ziegler was advised to check with the Planning Department for those figures.

According to the study, statistics from the county auditor’s office as of January showed 4,011 residential properties in the city, of which 3,664 are single family parcels composed of 1,485 single family rental properties and 2,179 single family owner-occupied parcels. The remaining 347 parcels are duplex, triplex, quadplex, apartment complexes and Metropolitan Housing Authority units, all rentals.

Comparing service calls made in 2012 by police, fire and housing code enforcement officials, the study indicated a disproportionate number were made to rental units as compared to owner-occupied homes.

According to the study, rental units compose 56 percent of the housing stock in the city, but accounts for 68 percent of police calls, 56 percent of fire calls, and 67 percent of housing code enforcement calls.

Based on these numbers, the study proposed an additional disproportionate rental fee, but with a reduced rate to those landlords who join the Better Landlords Program.

Currently, landlords pay $40 per unit for up to 25 and $30 for 26 or more units. With the disproportionate rental fee added, BLP members will pay an additional $25 per unit (a total of $65 each for up to 25 and $55 each for 26 or more) while those who do not join the BLP will pay an additional $95 per unit ($135 and $125, respectively).

As a BLP member, landlords would be required to adhere to certain provisions, including an initial four-hour training course offered by the city, followed by two-hour courses every two years.

They would also be required to sign a rental dwelling management agreement (RDMA) with the city, agreeing to comply with codes pertaining to all aspects of maintaining the properties, including tenant screening.

The tenant screening would include such requirements as providing the normal identification information of tenants but also names, dates, birthdates and relationships of all occupants; names and addresses of previous landlords; income/employment histories; and whether or not they have been convicted of offenses involving illegal drugs.

Landlords would be required under the RDMA to conduct criminal background checks for each tenant over 18, including any type of sex offender status and also to do a credit check and contact previous landlords.

The agreement also requires landlords to refuse to rent to those who provide false information or who have been convicted of any drug or alcohol related crime and other specific crimes listed in the agreement, as well as to those on a sex offender registry.

The lease signed by tenants and landlords would have to include provisions for evicting anyone using, selling, manufacturing or distributing illegal drugs or other criminal activities.

Those landlords who join the BLP could be subject to fines between $500 and $2,000 for violating the terms of the agreements.

Councilman Ryan Stovall chairs the economic development committee and assured Torma he will make the public aware when a meeting is called to discuss the proposed landlord program.