The solution to rental problems in Lima isn’t a costly bureaucracy.
Lima council’s neighborhood concerns committee is tackling the problem with bad landlords. These are the boogeymen out there who purchase a property cheaply in Lima, put absolutely no time or money into maintaining them and then rent out the substandard housing.
Perhaps going after these bad landlords is a worthwhile idea. (We’ll get back to that later.) Still, the idea currently considered by the committee if fraught with issues.
Lima Community Development Director Susan Crotty said the proposal includes an annual registration at $25 and an annual inspection at $75 per rental unit. She estimated the $766,000 theoretically raised by the proposal, based on 7,664 rental units in the city as per 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data, would pay for seven inspectors needed to keep up with the work.
Here’s the thing: If a landlord isn’t going to fix a leaking faucet when a tenant says something, he’s not going to pay $100 a year for the city to tell him he has a leaky faucet either. So right off the top, the estimates for what this proposal would bring in are coming in way too high.
Second, even if a bad landlord decides to write a check for that annual fee to stay in compliance with the city, it likely won’t come out of the landlord’s pocket. Common business sense tells you that if your costs go up, so should your price. That $100 will surely come out of tenant’s pockets indirectly.
The worst of these landlords are the ones preying on the poorest of people in Lima. They’re the ones who rent substandard housing at substandard rates because that’s all they can afford. They’re the ones who can’t afford to move out and move into something nicer, especially if it means risking losing a security deposit.
All of this is besides the point. You should never penalize good actors in the quest to find a few bad actors. Lima doesn’t need a robust system to double-check the work of all the good landlords out there. It needs a system to address problems with absentee owners.
If the goal is to make a registry of landlords so you know who to contact when there’s a problem, then great. Make a list of landlords. It shouldn’t cost much to keep and maintain a list in a digital age.
The real issue is reacting to residents who have problems with their landlords. This is the problem that’s been identified in the city. Some people with lesser landlords complain about real quality-of-life problems — think of inoperable water fixtures in the bathroom or portions of the ceiling falling down — but get no reaction out of them.
This is where our council members’ efforts should be focused, on making sure basic quality of life measures are met once a problem is identified. This puts us in an usual position, where we’re demanding our city be more reactive and a little less proactive.