Landlords oppose rental inspection program

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BRATTLEBORO — Landlords are pushing back against a rental inspection program being put together by the town.

Extra fees, landlord Fric Spruyt told the Select Board during a meeting Tuesday, hit the community's "most vulnerable people."

"I feel like it's death by 1,000 cuts here but the landlords are the middlemen," he said. "The current inspection program, I feel like, is working really well. I've had several years of routine inspections and it's a good system."

The proposed program would require each unit to be inspected once every four years and the landlord would be charged a $75 fee. Town Manager Peter Elwell said the town currently is only able to get to each unit about once every 10 years and does not charge a fee.

Sally Fegley, co-owner of Windham Property Managment Inc., looks at the program as a punishment that would hurt tenants as well as landlords. She was the first to bring up the subject during a time reserved for public comment at the meeting.

"As a property manager, I applaud the town's intent to monitor and improve the condition of rental properties," Fegley said. "It is in the town's general interest to enforce code and keep housing safe. There's a difference, however, between good landlords and bad landlords."

Fegley said good landlords make repairs, repaint, conduct maintenance, get inspections, replace items, pay their bills and provide housing to those who cannot afford to buy their own place. They called them "integral to a health community."

Fegley worries additional fees would make housing in the community less affordable. Her husband and business co-owner Tom Fegley read statements from two other landlords, Hattie Nestle and Iedje Hornsby, who also opposed the proposed program.

Hornsby suggested the number of planned inspections could double as a result of followup. She "feels strongly that the town should go after bad landlords who maintain slum apartments," Tom read. "Between the police and fire department, they should know who the culprits are. Let's go after them then go back and make sure that code violations have been remedied."

Landlords are supporting commerce and should not be penalized, Nestle said in her statement, but the town should be proactive in alleviating eyesores from the community.

Hugh Barber said he thinks the board needs to take a good look at the proposed program.

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"You need to look at the amount of money that's coming in; that would be over $50,000 for a year for 700 inspections," the landlord and former board member said. "Where's that money going to go and is it a fair amount to charge the landlords?"

Barber also suggested looking at the potential liability of the program. He said the town stopped another inspection program after being sued about 20 years ago after a fire led to death.

Select Board Chairwoman Kate O'Connor said an ordinance change will be required and the board has not yet seen the proposed language. That means there will be at least two hearings to get feedback.

Former board member Dick DeGray pointed to a $58,000 line item for the program in the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget.

"I guess the question is why would you put something in there if there's all this push back?" he said.

Elwell said the board approved funding via fees and budgeted the expenses into the spending plan that will be presented at Representative Town Meeting in March.

Jacqueline Reis read a statement of support from an organization she created with another landlord called Vermont Neighborly.

"We've both lived in this town for a long time and have been affected by the drop of standard of cleanliness and safety in the town of Bratleboro," she said. "And we feel this ordinance is going to directly address that and we feel that it's worth $2 a month to protect each rental unit thereby the whole building, the neighborhood and ultimately the whole town of Brattleboro."

Reis said the program will make it easier for landlords to document issues with "problem tenants" and evict people. She believes tenants will be more inclined to take better care of the properties. She sees relationships between landlords and town staff improving as a result. And she looks at the fees as a deductible business expense.

Without those fees, the cost would be added to the property tax rate, board member David Schoales said. He urged people to ask Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Windham-4, who are on government operations committees, to support a bill that would allow for "limited self-governance" in select municipalities so new revenue sources might be developed in Brattleboro.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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