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Landlords voice opposition to proposed inspection ordinance

July 23, 2014 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Landlords dominated the public speak out section of the City Council meeting on July 21 expressing their opposition for a proposed ordinance that would create a new inspection system for apartments in the city.

Introduced by Councilor Orlando Ramos, the ordinance is designed to identify problem properties and landlords.

Ramos called the new policy a “proactive approach” and added, “What we have in the city is a reactive approach.”

Under his plan, every apartment in Springfield would be inspected once every four years to ensure it meets the city’s standards. Ramos said he sees it as a self-sustaining program through the implementation of a $10 to $25 fee for every apartment.

Reacting to some of the issues brought by the property owners during the speak out, Ramos said, “It is the hope [through] this process [of developing the ordinance] some of their concerns can be addressed.”

The council voted to send the ordinance to the Planning and Economic Development Committee for further discussion.

Sheryl Chase is a property manager and president of a group that represents landlords in the city. She said there is small percentage of irresponsible property owners in the city and the present system of code enforcement the housing court utilizes addresses the needs of the tenants who require help.

She added the city already has identified blighted and problem properties and should develop a system to make that information available to all interested parties.

She described the task that Ramos has suggested undertaking by noting the city has 8,300 buildings with apartments, totaling 30,000 apartments. Currently there are seven code enforcement officers working in the city with a 250-day work year.

Chase added the suggested fee of $10 to $25 an apartment is really a new tax and suggesting the program would sustain itself with this fee is “not doable.”

In comparison, she noted the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program requires apartment inspections and those cost the landlord $75 per apartment.

She believes the proposed ordinance “takes it to an extreme to all landlords.”

In other action, MGM Springfield will officially become property owners in the city on July 31 when the casino company closes on the former Howard Street Armory and the Zanetti School.

The City Council had to approve the sale and did so quickly.

City Solicitor Edward Pikula explained to the council that besides the $3.2 million the company was paying for the two tornado-damaged properties, MGM had also offered to make a payment in lieu of taxes retroactive to last year of approximately $160,000.

The company’s willingness to make the retroactive payment is “indicative of the partnership MGM has established with the city and business community,” Councilor Timothy Rooke said.

No representative of MGM was present at the meeting.

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