Gary ponders changes to proposed rental inspection ordinance
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent September 12, 2012 4:02PM
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:29AM
GARY — The city could find itself up against precedent in court if the rental ordinance it’s considering is passed in its current iteration.
Lynne Sullivan, president for the Indiana Apartment Association in Indianapolis, told the Finance Committee during its Tuesday evening meeting that several provisions Gary is considering, and that other municipalities have used, have already been struck down in court. In particular, a municipality can charge only a reasonable fee for a provided service.
The ordinance seeks to establish a permit fee on all rental units in the city, be they apartment or single-family houses. Owners or landlords would be required to apply for their rental permit by March 30 each year; those who don’t will incur a higher fee per unit in addition to the original fee.
The permit fee was originally set at $75, but Building Commissioner Stephen Marcus said it’s been adjusted to $60 after discussion with corporate counsel.
Sullivan said she would support a complaint-driven inspection process because code enforcement wouldn’t have to waste time on inspecting dwellings that are up to code. Darnail Lyles, who owns tax-credit based Serenity Lake Senior Independent Living Complex in the city’s Miller section, agreed, adding there has to be parity in implementing the fees.
“Hammond wanted to charge nonresident property owners and landlords more than residents. With that in mind, you can’t charge one renter ($75) and then a HUD renter nothing,” Lyles said.
Lyles also said landlords can, by law, pass any fees on to their renters, which could be an undue burden since most of the city’s renters have low to moderate incomes.
Fire Chief Teresa Everett, whose staff would join the five building inspectors in conducting the inspections at no additional charge to the city, said the complaint-driven system used now is essentially useless and ultimately more expensive for all residents.
“We have files at the fire department pages long of complaints on buildings that are never addressed, and since they’re public record, anyone can come see them,” she said. “So we can be at a building one day that has uncorrected violations, and then come back the next day to put out a fire — which costs the city gas and potentially overtime for eight or nine firefighters — and that’s more expensive to the residents than either $5 you would pass on in rent or having corrected the violations in the first place.
“The intent of this ordinance is to improve the living conditions of all Gary residents. A complaint system is not going to work.”
Corporate Counsel Niquelle Allen told the audience the ordinance has not been finalized and invited property owners to submit their concerns in writing to the city’s Law Department, 401 Broadway, Suite 101A, Gary, IN 46402, before the next Finance Meeting, to be held at 5:30 Sept. 25.
The rental permit would be issued upon the rental unit passing code inspection, with a 30-day permit being issued if the inspector believes the landlord or owner can get the property compliant within that time. Those who either fail an inspection or fail to make the necessary fixes to bring the property within compliance will be charged a $75 inspection fee and could face going before the city’s Unsafe Building Hearing Officer.
Additionally, those who refuse an inspection will be ordered to come before the hearing officer and could incur the city’s attorney’s fees and court costs, it reads.
The income from the fees would possibly make the inspection staff, which already exists in the Building Department, a self-sustaining entity.