Program could improve housing

SALEM – City Council’s Committee of the Whole spent an hour Tuesday learning about the Better Landlord program, aimed at improving housing, reducing crime and rewarding good landlords.

No action was taken, with Councilman Brian Whitehill, who arranged for the presentation, saying it was strictly informational at this point.

He said he has talked with police Chief J.T. Panezott about the calls the department gets and learned the number of calls to rental properties are disproportionate to the number of calls involving owner-occupied properties.

“That’s where the calls are coming from, rental properties. The facts are the facts,” Whitehill said.

That disproportion can lead to increased costs for cities and that is what the Better Landlord program tries to reduce, according to Mark Kubricky, the director of Business Development for Better Landlord.

“Better Landlord is a program that maintains and improves housing standards by engaging landlords to comply with local ordinances, implement effective screening / leasing policies, and diversifying properties while lowering their utilization of municipal services,” the website at said.

Kubricky explained the first step in establishing a program would be a disproportionate impact study to determine the mix of rental properties and owner-occupied properties and the amount of city services being used by both, such as police, fire or housing department calls for nuisances or violations.

He said it has been shown that a more educated rental population means less crime and less consumption of city resources, leading to better-tended properties, stronger neighborhoods and ultimately less cost for the city. For the landlords, he said the program can lead to better tenants which leads to better payment of rent.

The second step would call for the city to approve an ordinance setting up the program, then training for the landlords who volunteer to participate and get a break on unit registration fees for remaining in good standing in the program.

As part of the deal, landlords would have to take ongoing training, agree to higher standards and partner with the city to reduce crime. In exchange they would pay a reduced registration fee and possibly gain money through better payment of rents by the tenants they choose.

Part of the training would include screening tenants by looking at their credit worthiness, verifying income, looking at their rental past for any problems and checking for a criminal record.

“You don’t want people who are recently released from jail renting properties in the city,” Kubricky said.

He said landlords would initially take a four-hour course, then a two-hour refresher course every couple years. Landlords would pay the cost of the training. Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey questioned the cost to the city for the program.

He said the city would pay a fee for the impact study, which would not exceed $20,000. Where he said the company makes its money over time is the training of landlords, which doesn’t cost the city anything since the landlords would pay that cost.

Councilman Dave Nestic, who chairs the Committee of the Whole, asked about the range of fees for the landlords. Kubricky said he has seen the registration fee range from $30 per unit to $300 per unit. That fee is reduced for landlords in the program. He said the training averages $70 to $80 every two years. Landlords who don’t take part have to pay the higher registration fee and landlords who get kicked out of the program for violations have to pay the fee plus a penalty.

City resident Scott Cahill, who owns rental properties in the city, said he has never had any problems at his rental properties and spoke highly of his tenants, saying it’s inappropriate to classify that grade of people with some of the people being described as bad tenants. He asked where the equity of fairness was for a landlord like himself and why he has to pay a fee to support the ones who rent to bad tenants.

“The idea of the program is to have more landlords like yourself,” Kubricky said.

He stressed that the program is not in any way meant to discriminate against tenants. He also said it’s not supposed to be a money-maker for the city, but a way to reduce costs by decreasing the usage of city services and reducing crime.

Cahill’s wife, Lisa, asked what tools the landlords get for being part of the program, such as free background searches. She also questioned what is done to identify rental properties.

The program was first implemented 10 years ago in Ogden, Utah, where Kubricky said the city saw reductions in crime and landlords saw more rental income. Most of the cities using the program are in the western United States, but the city of East Liverpool is currently working on adopting it.

Whitehill said he’ll see how the rest of the council members feel about what they heard and they’ll go from there, possibly calling another meeting to discuss it further.