Council proposes registry to track landlords

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Every single landlord in Marion County may soon have to register with the city or face a $500 fine.

The proposed "landlord registry" would require landlords to provide their contact information (name, address and phone number) pay a one-time $5 fee, verify they don't have delinquent taxes or code violations and provide their tenants with a copy of a tenant's bill of rights.

Republican City-County Councilor Jeff Miller said it's another tool to use against problem or absentee landlords, who are often difficult to track down, but critics say it goes too far, that it burdens good landlords with more rules and regulations.

But in the Mapleton-Fall Creek area, where the 2010 census showed that 64 percent of homes are rentals, there's strong support.

Tiwana Corbin has rented a duplex for the last four years. While she hasn't had any problems with the owners, she's ready to move.

"I like them, they're good people, but I'm not happy with the surroundings," she said, referring to the growing number of vacant rentals in varying degrees of disrepair - some now boarded up and abandoned.

"We have too many vacant properties on this end of New Jersey, too many," Corbin said.

And vacant properties lead to problems. Last week, she was burglarized while she and her children slept.

"They took the 46" TV in the living room while we were all home," she said, noting it could have been worse had any been awake.

Corbin like the idea of a landlord registry.

"If you're a landlord, you should be diligent about the property. You own it, why let it run down?" she said.

Like the now-vacant rental next door. She said she had a tough time finding someone to talk to about her concerns and when she finally did, "they said, 'We'll have a meeting, see what we can do, but nothing came of it."

Corbin has tried to secure and clean things up on her own.

"I have to be proactive when this is where I lay my head," she said.

With a registry, Corbin said, at least you'd know who owned the property and how to reach them.

John Gremling, who owns a half-dozen rental properties in Mapleton-Fall Creek, said a registry may indeed make it easier "to get hold of an owner who lives out of state or neglects his property."

He too, doesn't like having rundown rentals next to his.

"It causes a lot more police runs and causes my tenants to get concerned about the safety of the neighborhood," Gremling said, noting, "property values decrease with these more of these properties," too.

But he worries about another layer of government regulation.

"My broader concern is, does it become another tax for us? Is it $5 this year and ten years from now, $200? Is there also an inspection process down the road to get an approved unit? That happens in a lot of cities, so is it adding another agency or providing a tool?"

Miller said the $5 is a one-time fee per landlord and it can't go higher, state law prohibits it. He also said there is no inspection program.

He said having a central database will not only make reaching landlords easier, but it will show all the properties they own along with violations.

"You can begin to connect the dots," he said.

The proposal goes to a council committee next month.