Hamilton considers requiring apartment owners to register

City Council on Wednesday will take a first step toward clamping down on landlords who rent out apartments in substandard condition, with a plan to require all landlords to register the apartments they are leasing and requiring them to have the dwellings inspected, with fees of $75 or $25 per unit annually.

In a related ordinance, the city on Wednesday also will give first consideration to an ordinance that will set out a way that the city can declare properties to be chronic nuisance premises, with civil fines of up to $10,000 for landlords whose properties pose the most problems.

RELATED: How Hamilton is cracking down on nuisance properties

Also to be considered at a first meeting will be legislation requiring property owners to pay city utility bills when their tenants fail to do so, with liens placed on their properties if necessary.

All three legislative items will be considered Wednesday at the first of two required meetings — with the second meeting likely on March 8.

Public hearings will be held during Wednesday’s 6 p.m. meeting on the inspection and chronic-nuisance ordinances. City leaders since at least early 2016 have been focusing on creating the legislation to upgrade the state of apartments in the city and also to clamp down on “chronic nuisance” buildings that sap an inordinate amount of city resources — such as police, emergency-squad and sanitation services.

The three items are stirring controversy among Butler County property owners, who said they plan to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

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Ann Kash-Rowe, local chairwoman of the Board of Realtors’ Political Action Committee, said her organization objects to the proposed inspection fees.

“This just makes it very difficult for someone that keeps their property in order,” Kash-Rowe said. As for liens being placed on properties for back utilities, “that’s another problem,” she said.

“This is not the first time they’ve tried to license landlords” in Hamilton, said Alan Fishwick, a board member with the Investment Property Owners Association. “This would make, I think, the third time.”

Fishwick said he has concerns about all three items of legislation, and plans to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Chronic Nuisance Legislation

If the chronic-nuisance legislation is approved as it is, landlords can receive civil fines of $150 for the first, second and third offenses within a two-year penalty; $500 for a fourth offense within two years; $1,000 for a fifth offense within two years; $1,500 for a sixth offense in two years; $5,000 for a seventh offense; and $10,000 apiece for each offense within two years after that.

Here’s what would trigger an offense: When three or more “chronic nuisance activities ” occur on separate days during a 30-day period or a felony drug offense under either Chapter 2925 or 3719 of the Ohio Revised Code happens at the property.

RELATED: Butler County’s most blighted propertyies are vanishing

Here are the offenses that constitute chronic nuisance activities: assault; menacing; inducing panic or making a false alarm; “unlawful possession or use of a hoax weapon of mass destruction”; disrupting public services; curfew violations; disorderly conduct; discharging firearms; committing any drug offense under Chapters 2925 or 3719, or soliciting a controlled substance; compelling or promoting prostitution; public gaming; loud noises or excessive sound from a motor vehicle; and felony violation of the state’s drug-related Chapters 2925 or 3719, “regardless of whether there has been a conviction of said violation”; and nuisances as defined by 3767.01(C) of in the Ohio Revised Code.

Inspection legislation

The proposed inspection legislation requires each owner of rental property to obtain a city rental permit. For those who register before July 31, 2017, the fee will be $50 for each unit. If there are more than three units under the same roof, the fee will be $50 for each of the first three, and $25 for each additional one.

For those who register between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31, the fees will be $75 for the first three units and $25 for each additional one. For those registered after Nov. 1, the fee will be $100 for the first three and $25 for each extra unit.

Community Development Director Eugene “Bud” Scharf said the apartment-inspection fees would differ after the first year, depending on how the property checked out previously.

“If we come out and inspect, and you pass the inspection, the next year we’re reducing it down to $25 and we won’t inspect,” Scharf said. “In year three, in this scenario, then they would be required to pay the $75, and we would come out and inspect.”

The fourth year, if the apartment again inspected well, the fee would be $25 per apartment.

The city is considering hiring outside inspectors to conduct the apartment evaluations, Scharf said. The city’s six sanitarians are busy, as are four inspectors in the city’s construction-services area, he said.

Utilities ordinance

In an effort to recoup some of the $1.5 million that went uncollected just last year — 1.4 percent of revenue from the city’s utilities of natural gas, electric, water, sewage, stormwater and trash — the city would make property owners liable to the city for unpaid utility payments, along with the tenants.

If a bill is not paid within 30 days, and the city has alerted the property owner 30 days before doing so, the city may sue the property owner for the payment and have a lien placed upon the property served by the utilities.

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