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Council gives final approval for new landlord law

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At Village Council’s May 18 meeting, Council gave final approval to a new policy regarding delinquent utility bills, bringing to an end several months of sometimes contentious protest at Council meetings. The new policy holds landlords responsible for the delinquent utility bills of their tenants.

“A lot of this comes down to who should bear the risk” of renters’ utility costs, according to Council member Brian Housh, who voted in favor of the change. The vote, which was the third and final reading of the policy legislation, was 4–1, with Housh, Marianne MacQueen, Gerry Simms and Karen Wintrow voting in favor and Lori Askeland voting against. The new policy will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The new law holding landlords responsible for their tenants’ utility debts is a departure from the Village’s current practice of footing the bill when tenants leave without paying utility bills, which has led to a loss of about $15,000 yearly for Village government. The policy change, proposed by Manager Patti Bates and Finance Director Melissa Vanzant several months ago, was introduced as one of several small but together significant ways to shore up Village finances. Research by Bates and Vanzant indicates that the majority of Ohio municipalities follow the practice of holding property owners responsible for their tenants’ utility debts.

While most votes on new legislation require only two readings, or votes, Council last month agreed to add a third reading to the issue due to its controversial nature. Throughout the voting process several Council members struggled with their decision, with Askeland initially voting against the new policy, then for it and finally against it again.

Her main concern regarding the change is how it will affect local affordability, Askeland said at Monday night’s meeting. Citing financial pressures on local landlords away from long-term rentals and toward financially lucrative short-term options such as Airbnb, Askeland said the new law could add to those pressures and thus lead to fewer affordable long-term rental units.

“We may lose some good rental properties,” she said.

Former Council President Judith Hempfling, who is a landlord, also spoke against the new policy due to concerns about its effect on affordable housing, along with her belief that it would “be a disincentive for economic development.”

However, several other Council members also cited concern for affordability while voting for the policy change.

Continuing with the Village’s current practice of absorbing tenants’ utility debts means a continually rising cost spread out among all villagers, Housh said.

“This means that people already challenged to pay their bills will be more challenged,” he said.

Housh also said that he’s appreciative that the new policy has drawn attention to the affordability issue and that landlords who care about the issue can work with the Village and Council to make local housing more affordable.

“We don’t have affordability now,” he said, stating that Council and the community need to address the problem.

The new policy will likely not affect local affordability, according to Marianne MacQueen, because the main problem is lack of affordable rentals. MacQueen restated her intent to bring to Council a proposal for affordable rentals on the Village-owned 44-acre Glass Farm.

MacQueen also responded to Sandy Love, who complained that Council hadn’t been listening to the concerns of landlords, who have expressed their displeasure with the new law during at least four previous Council meetings.

“Council members have been listening,” MacQueen said, but have not necessarily agreed with the landlords. And the Village has responded to landlords’ concerns, she said, including delaying the rollout of the new policy until January 2016, and having the new policy affect only new rental leases rather than ongoing leases.

The policy change encourages landlords to make their properties more energy efficient, according to Council President Karen Wintrow said, stating the legislation also allows more collaboration between tenants and landlords regarding how to achieve more effiiciency.

In comments to Council members before the vote, Sam Young, a co-owner of MillWorks, stated that the policy change could  harm economic development.

“The passage of this law will be a disincentive for investment in commercial real estate,” he said, describing the change as “penny-wise and pound-foolish” because he believes while it will save the Village a small amount of money, it could lead to greater losses.

Local landlords Bob Baldwin, Paul Abendroth, Jo Dunphy and Betty Ford also expressed concerns about the new law.

Other items from Council’s May 18 agenda will be in next week’s News.

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