Monday, May 18, 2009

Holding property owners accountable for renters

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police representatives are pitching the idea of a new Charlotte city ordinance intended to help find absentee property owners and hold them accountable for actions of renters.

The initial plan requires property owners to register rental property with the police department, providing clear details on how the property owner can be reached if renters engage in illegal or disorderly activities.

The ordinance also allows the establishment of fees to pay for the registration costs and establishes a five-member unpaid board that reviews violations and has the power to revoke an owner's ability to rent property.

Police representatives are expecting strong opposition from property owners, and the ordinance review process will likely take several months, according to an email sent to community leaders from Ken Miller, deputy police chief. The first draft will be presented to a council committee on Thursday, May 21.

The ordinance could be welcome among some community leaders as a way to hold property owners accountable for criminal activity that happens on their property. A few questions, to generate discussion:

1. Why can't existing property records be used to find property owners instead of establishment of a separate registration process and database? Perhaps one answer: Often rental property is owned by absentee partnerships or companies where the tracing of responsibile parties is difficult. So would it be more efficient to fund or hire a forensic property tracker or enhance the existing property ownership database instead of creating a separate silo of information? Would it not be better long term for records at the city clerk's office to be made useful for this purpose and other purposes?
2. Will the fee for registration be so prohibitive that it penalizes small property owners in a bad economy who are just struggling to hold on to their properties instead of letting them lapse into foreclosure?
3. If determination of "disorderly" or "illegal" activities on a property happens before the renter goes to court and is convicted, is it right to penalize a property owner?
4. If it's difficult to staff unpaid city and county boards as it is, why establish another unpaid board to review complaints? Is there another way to use the time of existing city staff to handle the work, or is that a legal problem?
5. What are other cities and counties doing to control the problem of crime and disorder in rental properties with absentee owners who are difficult to reach? Has the proposed approach worked in other cities? Has it been challenged in courts elsewhere (leading to legal costs for cities)?

The proposed ordinance addresses a big problem in dealing with crime and safety in rental properties. Let's hope for a strong community discussion that leads to efficient, fair methods of fixing the problem.

First meeting details: Room 180 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. at noon on Thursday, May 21. Here's a map.

Full Google document of the draft ordinance.

1 comment:

Gates County News said...

Property owners should not be held accountable for renters criminal activity. Especially, when with the current Tenant Landlord Laws, it takes more than thirty days to remove troublesome renters. In some cases the landlord is burdened to prove he or she is justified in breaking the lease. This ordinance appears to in effect place undue responsibility upon the property owners, and they should rightly oppose it.