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Rental property owners oppose proposed safety inspection ordinance

May 06, 2009
BELMONT — Rental property owners swarmed the Corner Meeting House Monday night to voice their displeasure with a proposed ordinance that would mandate biannual safety inspections and impose fees for the service, which most said they don't want.

According to a notice from the town, the primary purpose of the ordinance is to make certain that rental properties are in compliance with state safety regulations and national fire safety standards.

"It is not the intent of this proposed ordinance to create cost or inconvenience to our rental property owners," the notice reads.

Howard Warren, who owns a building on Church Street as well as rental properties in Tilton, Northfield and Laconia was the first of many to point out that imposing a $50 fee for the first rental unit, and a $25 fee for each additional unit seemed unfair.

"If it's something you want, taxes should cover it," Warren said, noting that Laconia is going through the same safety inspection process but is doing it for free.

Property owner Glenn Worsmen said the ordinance is a violation of the Constitution, which secures citizens from searches. He said that tenants can complain to the town if they have a problem, and he too was concerned about the proposed fees. Between the time it will take to fill out applications and do the inspections with Dalton, as well as the fees, Worsmen said both rental property owners and renters will feel the burden.

"Rents in Belmont will have to go up," he said. "We as landlords are struggling to keep our rents affordable; the goal of the community is to keep affordable housing. Generating $20,000 (in fees) will cost this town a whole lot more than this."

Code Enforcement Officer Steve Dalton took notes throughout the hearing based on the public's reaction and said he would make changes based on what he heard. He said the intent of the ordinance is to be proactive, to prevent fires and to make it easier for the fire department to locate apartments in the case of other emergency situations. Some landlords have hidden apartments from the town in the past, making it difficult for emergency personnel to respond to the right location.

"You're still gonna have illegal apartments, no matter what," said Mark Condodemetraky, who owns property in town with his parents, "but to punish everybody else that is law abiding I think is unreasonable."

"How do you find that one (bad landlord)?" Selectman Jon Pike asked. "How do you do it before there's a fire and somebody gets hurt?"

Condodemetraky also said the ordinance's list of deficiencies is too broad and cited some examples, including a requirement that rental units' kitchens be kept clean and sanitary, and one that mandates regular lawn mowing.

"There's absolutely no way a landlord can (require) their tenant to keep their kitchen clean and sanitary," Condodemetraky said. "How could you possibly expect to regulate something like that?" Condodemetraky also echoed earlier sentiments that if Belmont is going to require safety inspections, it should come from taxpayers' money.

"Why should the other taxpayers pay for the landlords or the tenants on these costs?" Selectman David Morse asked. "Why should I, as a taxpayer, support your business?"

"We're paying taxes," Condodemetraky replied. "This is something you're putting on us."

Dalton wondered if some landlords worried that he would come in and start requiring them to update their units with things like new windows.

"Our intent is to go out, first and foremost, to look at the common sense stuff," Dalton said.

Dalton said he'd worked with most of the people present and that they should know he wasn't going to come down on them with an iron fist, but some worried that if Dalton leaves, the ordinance would pave the way for stricter regulations.

"We could be subject to some little Napolean that wants to make our life miserable," Warren said.

Some of the language in the draft will likely be revised based on public input. For example, Warren said he wouldn't feel comfortable signing the acknowledgement of receipt of the ordinance, because of its broad language and a long list of requirements that it would subject the owner to.

"Everybody that signs that will immediately be in a negative position," he said. "It just doesn't seem reasonable to have that language in there."

Dalton said he would pass the draft back to town counsel for review and try to come up with something more specific.

"Would it be prudent to put together an ad hoc committee with some landlords?" Dalton asked.

The selectmen agreed that it would, and though no names were chosen to be on the committee, the process of forming one is moving forward.

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