- By Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Springfield city commissioners are considering changes to an ordinance that fines landlords $100 for failing to provide information to tenants about their rights.
Landlords currently must provide a booklet to renters that explains the rights and responsibilities of both parties or face a $100 fine, according to a city code enacted in 2001. Under a new proposal, Springfield landlords first would receive a written warning for not providing the information, City Law Director Jerry Strozdas said. A second violation would then result in a $100 fine.
City Commissioners are expected to vote Feb. 27 on the change.
Landlords must provide proof that tenants either received the booklet or knew they could view the booklet at the city’s website upon moving in, Strozdas said.
The city doesn’t randomly knocking on doors asking for proof landlords are providing the booklet, he said. The issue is typically brought up during a dispute between a landlord and tenant, who are then referred back to the booklet, Strozdas said. That’s how the ordinance is usually enforced, he said.
“We don’t operate this as our ATM, as our revenue source,” Strozdas said. “We do this to get people to do what’s expected of them. Compliance is the objective.”
In 2001, the former Justice Action Mercy group wanted the city to create a landlord registration ordinance, meaning landlords would have to apply for a license every year. As part of the proposal, each time a property got a new tenant, it would have to be inspected.
Landlords fought against it, Strozdas said, and later compromised by agreeing to inform tenants about their rights with a booklet.
The new debate began because the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division asked the city to consider making some fire code violations punishable through civil fines rather than criminal offenses, Springfield leaders said.
Under the current city codes, certain fire-related violations, such as commercial businesses not refreshing fire extinguishers, currently only can be enforced through filing a misdemeanor criminal offense through the Clark County Municipal Court. The fire department would rather fine offenders, Strozdas said, which led to the proposed changes to the city’s code violations.
“That’s the bulk of it,” he said. “That’s what’s driven this thing from beginning to end.”
As city staff members examined civil code enforcement violations, Strozdas said they believed some areas should be cleaned up.
They also saw the section about a requirement for landlords to provide a tenant rights booklet to renters or face a $100 fine, he said. City staff members decided to remove that section from the code enforcement violations and place it by itself in a section of business regulations, Strozdas said.
Springfield city commissioners discussed last month eliminating the requirement for landlords but that ended in a stalemate after former Commissioner Dan Martin abstained from the vote.
Commissioner Joyce Chilton opposed the fine because she believes too many responsibilities are placed on landlords, she said. The responsibility for maintenance of a rental property in Springfield, such as trash pick-up, water bill payments and code violations for yard clean-ups, falls on the landlord, she said.
“Where does the tenants’ responsibilities come in here?” Chilton asked. “They have to have some responsibilities.”
She’s leaning toward voting in favor of the legislation, she said.
“It’s a good compromise and staff have worked to revise it,” Chilton said.
Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland also plans to vote in favor of the legislation. The goal is to get landlords to cooperate with tenants, he said.
“Hopefully the warning will be enough to do that,” he said.
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