NB Politicus

Absentee Landlord Licenses, Fees Exist In Many Communities

Posted in Housing, municipal budget, Tax Policy by nbpoliticus on October 6, 2012

Updated November 21, 2012: Legitimate concerns about the city’s licensing of absentee landlords (all owner-occupied dwellings are excluded) have been drowned out by a phony anti-government coalition fueled by out-of-town interests and a failed GOP leadership seeking once again to use divisiveness for political gain.   The well-publicized and well-financed campaign of distortion is  now replete with paid protestors, intimidation of tenants and outrageous lies about the ordinance and who would be affected by it.

The absentee landlord lobby frets and whines that if this happens in New Britain, it will spread to other communities.  What they don’t want you to know is licensing and fees for absentee owners and investment properties exist from the Redwood forests to the New York highlands as a means of maintaining housing stock and improving landlord and tenant relations.  As the following post from NB Politicus noted in early October  the absentee landlord law suit flies in the face of similar ordinances in Connecticut and around the country, including laws that go far beyond what has been proposed for New Britain.

On October 4th, New Britain’s Common Council adopted new fee ordinances on landlords owning non-owner occupied, multi-unit apartments  —  policies designed to raise an alternative source of revenue as well as to strengthen anti-blight enforcement in multi-unit housing.

The $150 per unit flat fee represented a compromise over an earlier proposal that the Council’s Planning and Development committee left on the table. It will raise an estimated $1 million on rental properties with absentee owners.

A second ordinance known as a “hot-spot fee” would charge landlords $500 when emergency and public safety personnel are called to an apartment house five or more times in a year.  It is expected to generate another $1 million.

The combined measures can avert some service cuts and improve the anti-blight efforts as Mayor O’Brien and the Council seek to fill a $4 million hole growing out of  the structural deficits identified in the last fiscal year when O’Brien took office.  Clearly, they are not a panacea for the budget woes that stem from nearly a decade of gimmickry and one-short revenues of prior administrations. The license fee  is part of a strategy to avoid regressive taxation in tough fiscal times: raising the property tax  always falls disproportionately on homeowners and those least able to afford it.

The Common Council’s actions occurred amid a raucous and at times churlish crowd of opponents prominently led by the statewide landlord lobbying group which opposes the fees and previously opposed tougher anti-blight measures that the O’Brien Administration has adopted.

According to press reports, Bob De Cosmo, president of the Waterbury-based Connecticut Property Owners, said his group will file a class-action lawsuit against the city.  In an effort to bully and intimidate city councillors DeCosmo was quoted as saying “we will be looking into suing each individual council member that voted for this illegal tax.”

The hollow threat of a legal fight over the modest New Britain flat fee flies in the face of policies and fees that are found in many other  communities throughout the country and that have been on the books for a good long time.

In Connecticut, for example, Stamford has an annual fee structure on multi-family units tied to housing code enforcement: a $60 fee and $30 per additional unit for three to nine apartments; $75 and $40 per additional unit for 10 to 39 apartments, and; $200 fee and $60 per unit for 40 or more apartments. Sounds doubtful absentee landlords will dump their New Britain properties to go buy dwellings downstate.  Nor will they pull up stakes and go to places like Gainesville, FL, North Chicago IL, Burlington, NJ, Cedar Rapids IA, Salt Lake City UT, Minneapolis, MN (and many more). They’ll find landlord fees and licenses and charges for rental units in all of them.

One other thing municipalities here in Connecticut and elsewhere have as a sensible part of housing policy is a Certificate of Occupancy ordinance. That was lost to New Britain in the 1980s when Tom Bozek was the Council majority leader.  It would be a feather in the cap to Mayor O’Brien and the Council to restore the CO ordinance, not just for fees but to fairly handle the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.

The Mayor and Common Council clearly didn’t deserve the insults and push back at the Council meeting from some of the attendees, particularly absentee landlords who need to learn a lesson in shared sacrifice without diminishing a return on their investments. They need to be responsible members of this community whether they live here or not.

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