BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — Maumee City Council opened its first meeting of 2023 with a lengthy discussion regarding the first reading of a newly proposed city ordinance that is designed to regulate specified rental properties within city limits in an effort to eliminate public safety hazards that may be incurred by tenants of such properties.
The January 3 meeting opened with the Committee of the Whole meeting in which council members were afforded the opportunity to discuss items on the council agenda.
Maumee council member Philip Leinbach had questions about an agenda item concerning the first reading of Ordinance 002-2023, which would enact non-owner-occupied residential property requirements within the city of Maumee. The primary goal of the ordinance is to eliminate safety hazards for tenants due to neglect of properties caused directly by negligent landlords.
Leinbach asked city administrator Patrick Burtch, “What is the extent of such housing in Maumee?”
Burtch responded by saying, “A larger extent than most people might think.” Burtch reported that for the past two years, Mayor Richard Carr has been asking for the creation of an ordinance that could put some teeth into the enforcement of neglected rental properties that are responsible for health hazards to tenants while also hurting the property values of neighboring residences.
Burtch said that he recently had personal experience with such a property. During the holidays, when the city was short-staffed, Burtch stated that he assisted other city officials as they answered a call from a distressed tenant about frozen pipes in a rental property on Scott Street.
“A young woman with two kids had the water service broken with frozen pipes in their house, and the landlord was not fixing it,” Burtch reported.
“I went out there to witness it. We witnessed it, took some pictures and what I saw in that house you would all cringe at,” he continued. “Black mold, a step had collapsed under my weight when I went into the kitchen, there was rat feces going into the crawl space, there were other things that I hate to even mention here, that were not caused by the tenant.”
Burtch said that Maumee Law Director Alan Lehenbauer had to use his resources to reach out to that landlord to get him to make the repairs, while making sure that licensed contractors did the work.
“When I brought this up to some city inspectors, they said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s not the worst we’ve seen in town,’” Burtch stated.
Burtch said that while there are plenty of good landlords, “It’s not been my experience to see a lot of really good rental units. If you’re going to have them here in this community, they ought to be ones that are taken care of, so they don’t depreciate the value of the neighbors’ homes.”
Burtch stated that the reason Maumee is easing into the passage of the ordinance by requiring three public readings, instead of pushing it through with an emergency reading, is because it will take some time to properly set up the program. This also gives council plenty of time in which to ask questions. “You can amend it slightly through that process,” Burtch told council. The second reading will take place at the Tuesday, January 17 city council meeting and the third and final reading won’t take place until the Monday, February 6 meeting of city council.
Burtch said that Lucas County has a similar program, but the county doesn’t enforce it like Maumee plans to do with its program. The county program is done more on a complaint basis, Burtch stated. Maumee’s program will likely be much more proactive in its nature.
Lehenbauer said, “If you go on the county website, they have a rental registration where you just have to register with the auditor. It lists all the properties in Maumee that are already registered, and there is a significant number on that list. The individual that Patrick was talking about earlier has multiple properties, and our guess is that they are similar in nature to the one that was inspected, so this (ordinance) is to clean up a lot of those issues.”
Burtch stated that the ordinance will also include hotels that are non-owner-occupied. “If the owner doesn’t live in that structure, it would fall under this ordinance,” Burtch explained.
Burtch said that the basic outline of the ordinance is similar to the one that was created in Jackson, Mich., where he served as city administrator for several years. There are many other modifications that have been made based upon the principles that have been tested in courts over the years, Burtch explained. “We tried to put together something that is defensible.”
Burtch went on to say, “The codes aren’t any more restrictive than you would have on your single-family home, but I think a lot of times a lot of rentals in the past – in a lot of communities – have not complied with those codes because they were never required to comply with them.”
“We find a lot of places that get converted to rentals, or cut up into more than one unit, without any permits. We say you’ve got to meet the residential code if you’re two units or less. If you’re above that, you’re going to meet the commercial code,” Burtch said.
Council member Gabe Barrow added, “We don’t really have teeth in our system right now to make these property owners clean up their property.”
Burtch stated that the new ordinance, if passed, “contemplates having an administrative hearings officer that doesn’t bog the courts down with matters like this.”
“This is a decriminalized ordinance, meaning that there are substantial fines for non-compliance if you don’t do it, and those fines get charged back directly to the landlord and the fees for hiring inspectors and everything else also gets charged in that inspection,” Burtch said.
“The easiest way to defend your fees and to reward good landlords and punish bad landlords is to do an allocated hourly rate so that it pays for the program,” Burtch explained. “That way, single-family residential homeowners, who don’t want to be landlords, aren’t paying for the enforcement of landlord properties.”
Maumee council members Margo Puffenberger and Leinbach said that they appreciated this opportunity to be able to look at the proposed ordinance over a longer period of time.
After nearly 20 minutes of discussion in the Committee of the Whole meeting, council voted to adjourn the committee meeting and head directly into the regular January 3 meeting of city council, with council president Jim MacDonald serving as acting mayor in the absence of Mayor Carr.
Under the petitions and communications portion of the meeting, council accepted and placed on file the following:
• The second reading of Ordinance 068-2022, enacting a Stormwater Utility Program for the city.
• The first reading of Ordinance 002-2023, enacting non-owner-occupied residential property requirements for the city.
• A finance committee report from December 14, 2002.
During the consent calendar segment of the meeting, council:
• Approved the confirmation of appointments and re-appointments to the board and commissions of the city of Maumee. (See accompanying chart.)
• Approved Resolution 001-2023, authorizing the sale by internet auction of certain obsolete property no longer needed for any municipal purpose within the city.
• Approved the recommendation of the city administrator to create two new part-time co-op positions: environmental intern and engineering intern.
In new business, council:
• Approved Ordinance 001-2023, amending Section 1105.08 of the Maumee Codified Ordinances and Ordinance 106-2020, and declaring an emergency. This ordinance updates the notice requirements and other requirements related to Maumee Planning Commission matters.
• Referred to the personnel committee a proposal to reorganize the Maumee police command structure creating the non-bargaining position of deputy assistant police chief.
During the citizen comments portion of the meeting, none of the 10 residents in the audience elected to speak before council.
The meeting lasted approximately 31 minutes before council adjourned to enter executive session.
The next meeting of Maumee City Council is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17 in council chambers at the Maumee Municipal Building, 400 Conant St.
As always, Maumee City Council meetings are open to the public.