Meriden City Council Creates Incentives for Good Landlords

landlordIn order to prevent bad landlords from taking advantage of tenants, most cities require apartment buildings to undergo regular inspections. Some cities, like New York City, have even suggested shaming disreputable landlords by publicly posting their names. However, Meriden, Connecticut is taking a different approach: their newly adopted city housing code would allow landlords who meet certain standards to eschew city inspections every two years.

Prior to the Meriden City Council’s changes in early October, landlords in the area were required to earn a certificate of compliance, which expired every two years. While the certificate remains part of the system, a number of changes have been made to encourage landlord cooperation: a new code checklist will now determine if housing units meet, exceed, or do not meet city requirements. Units that exceeds the city standards can extend their certificate renewal date to five years instead of two, and units that exceed standards in three categories–exterior, dwelling unit, and landlord cooperation–can forgo the regular inspection every two years.

The new standards also allow landlords who renovate their properties to benefit from their work: properties that have received a “total restoration” according to the housing code standards will not be required to be inspected for 10 years after the repairs are completed. Similarly, landlords who complete a “substantial renovation” will not need an inspection for seven years. This benefit is awarded due to the time, money and effort a landlord must invest in a property in order to finish these changes.

While the new code is still a new development, the concept is already attracting attention from a number of landlords, property management companies, and tenants.

“Promoting Code adherence by incentive rather then punitive measures is always good public policy,” says Joe Ord of Amoso Properties. “Most Landlords would gladly spend a little extra money upfront to exceed expectations if it means more freedom to run their businesses for the next 2 to ten years.”

But while the changes to the city housing code were successfully passed, the new regulations are still being questioned by some. For example, one City Councilor, Kevin Scarpati, asked how landlord cooperation would be judged. Likewise, some landlords say they are concerned by the Council’s definition of “total restoration”, which includes new accessories like roofing, siding and utilities. These landlords pointed out that some buildings, particularly historical structures, would see greater benefits from restoration rather than replacements. In response to Scarpati’s concerns, a city planner explained that landlords would simply need to follow the housing code’s guidelines in a timely and agreeable manner. However, the council was more appreciative of the landlords’ concerns and added the term “like new” to the definition of “total restoration” in the housing code, making it possible for landlords to qualify for the 10-year gap in inspections without using new materials.

Many of the council’s revisions to the housing code were made in accordance with recommendations from the Meriden Housing Task Force. The changes to the housing code were spurred by complaints that the housing inspection program was too heavy a burden on many landlords and hindered economic development.Originally, Mayor Manny Santos proposed eliminating two housing inspector positions and cutting the program. Instead, the city chose to form the task force. In light of harsher punishments being established in many other cities, it will be interesting to see how their suggestions,including fewer inspections and more incentives to improve city housing, compare to other areas.