BERLIN — Landlords and people who have rooms to let will have to register with the town following the council’s approval this week of legislation aimed at making sure rentals are up to code.
Since most landlords have business licenses, it won’t be necessary to pay the $10 fee that accompanies the registration but, in the interests of getting the program under way, registration is still required and must be completed by 20 days after the ordinance’s passage on Monday, Sept. 26. The ordinance passed after two work sessions and this week’s public hearing.
Under the new ordinance, any person who receives rent from another must register. This includes people who have rooms to let. If a residence is owned by a corporation, one of the principles must be on the license and accountable to the town in case of complaints or observed violations.
Licensees must make the property available to inspection. Any outright refusal to allow an inspection will result in a citation.
At the hearing, landlord and town resident Carol Jacobs said that while she supported the rule generally, she objected to the at-will inspection clause. She reasoned that since, for instance, she didn’t have such an agreement with her lessees, it would be difficult to change the lease without making tenants feel imposed upon.
“I resent … the town saying, ‘I can come in and I can inspect the property,’” she said.
Jacobs also worried over the tenant’s rights when it came to requesting inspections.
Planning Supervisor Chuck Ward said one of the landlord protections is that if it turns out there was no evidence for the town staff to come in and they do anyway, the landlord can appeal to the housing board of review.
He has said that as long as there are no complaints and the property is under no other violations, inspections are to be the exception rather than the norm.
One of the thrusts of the proposed registration process is to ensure that anyone who rents out a property is registered as a landlord so the town can address complaints to the correct person. To help with that enforcement and landlord who neglects to register will receive notification. The landlord will have 10 days to comply with the order to register or face a $100 fine and be fined $200 per day fine until the complaint is corrected.
“For ten bucks a year, at least it’s on file,” Ward said.
The licensing program will make landlords as accountable as other homeowners when it comes to maintenance and aesthetic concerns. If a landlord is found too often in violation or is recalcitrant about the citations he or she receives, the town now has the right to revoke that license and evict the tenants.
In cases where a landlord owns more than one property, the landlord will be issued a license for each. This stipulation was enacted to prevent the town from revoking the license on one sub-par property and affecting other compliant properties the landlord owns. It was added to address concerns about evicting people who had no part in the upkeep or violations at another residence.
After making the rules clear to both the public and members of the council, Councilman Troy Purnell moved the council should pass the motion, which it did unanimously.
Having passed the rules, the council reviewed the application landlords will be required to fill out in order to get their licenses. The licenses will be available at Town Hall. The town staff will begin identifying which properties are rentals and notifying the owners of the new requirements.