Lisbon council hears two sides of rental inspection debate

LISBON — In the continuing debate over whether to create a rental property registration/inspection program, Village Council heard from two landlords at this week’s meeting — one in favor and the other opposed.

David Halverstadt II of Halverstadt Properties went first, saying he owns rental properties in Lisbon, Salem and Poland, and the latter two communities have registration/inspection programs. He described them as “great idea” because it fosters a working relationship with the city or village while helping him do his job.

“It’s really a good thing. It’s good for the owner and the municipality because you catch little things before they become big problems,” he said.

Halverstadt said in Salem the inspector does not have to be a certified housing inspector because he is only tasked with looking for basic things, such as whether the rental properties have smoke detectors or fire extinguishers.

Longtime Lisbon landlord Wayne Wallace joined in later in the meeting, saying he does not believe any sort of registration/inspection program is needed. He estimated 70 percent of his rentals are through a federal program that provides landlords a subsidy for renting to qualified low-income tenants, and participation in the program requires his rentals be inspected by the local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“So we’re on top of all this,” he told council. “The system is working.”

Wallace said most of the problems at his properties, if not all, are the fault of the tenants. He had instances where a fire occurred after the tenant put something on the stove to cook and then took a nap. On another occasion, a tenant tried to extinguish a grease fire in the kitchen by dousing the pan with water, causing the blaze to explode. Tenants also frequently remove the batteries from smoke detectors or sometimes even take down the detector.

When bad tenants are evicted, they often vandalize the property and sometimes take the appliances with them.

“All of these problems are from the tenant, not the landlord,” Wallace said.

He also claimed even if the village enacted such legislation the landlord cannot be forced to undergo an inspection against his will without a court order. “You can’t make inspections mandatory. You can’t do it,” Wallace said.

There are an estimated 400 rental properties in a town of 2,788 residents.

Sherman Street resident Donna St. Clair joined the discussion, saying the rental property next to her, which is owned by Ruth Brown, is in deplorable shape and her property is infested with rats from the rental property.

“We try real hard to take good care of our home … but no one is taking care of the rental property,” she said, adding that while both sides blame the other, village residents pay the price.

“I’m a widow and it’s not fair to me … I do think something needs to be done where the tenant and landlord are held accountable,” St. Clair added.

Wallace said the village has certain responsibilities under existing law. “What law protects me from the rodents and trash next door?” she asked.

Mayor Roger Gallo joined the discussion at this point, saying there are nuisance laws that can be enforced by police. Chief Mike Abraham said a letter has already been sent to Brown ordering her to clean up the property or be cited into court.,

Meanwhile, Councilman Ryan Berg continues to work with the village solicitor on drafting legislation to create a limited rental registration program that would also give the fire department the authority to inspect rental properties for possible safety violations if a complaint is received from the landlord or tenants.