Officials: Rental registration fees promote better housing conditions

2013-02-11T00:00:00Z 2013-02-11T06:17:03Z Officials: Rental registration fees promote better housing conditionsChas Reilly chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 nwitimes.com
February 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Some area municipalities are watching proposed legislation that could ban fees for rental inspections and registration.

Hammond charges rental registration fees to prevent substandard rental housing in the city, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said.

House Bill 1313, which would not allow collection of those fees starting July 1, would put a strain on those efforts, McDermott said.

Hammond requires landlords register their rental properties with the city each year, he said. Landlords also must pay an annual $80 fee for each rental unit.

In 2012, the city brought in $814,865 through its ordinance, and the funds are used to support the Inspections Department, according to Hammond City Controller Bobby Lendi.

McDermott said issues handled by the Inspections Department mainly come from rental housing.

In Merrillville, the town charges landlords an annual $100 registration fee for each unit they have in the municipality, but town leaders expect changes to the amount.

In January, the town reported it collected nearly $375,000 in 2012 from the charge.

Merrillville will use money generated from the fee to enforce its rental ordinance and inspect rental units when the town receives complaints about them, Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey said.

"All we're trying to do is make apartments safer,” he said.

Town leaders had intended to use a portion of the funds to increase police staffing, but Merrillville can't proceed with that plan because hiring more police officers doesn't qualify as an administrative cost associated with the fee, Guernsey said.

Merrillville may reduce its fee to $50 per unit because funds collected from it won't be used to supplement the Police Department, Guernsey said.

In a statement from Lynne Sullivan, president of the Indiana Apartment Association, she said she believes the proposed action in Merrillville is an attempt to prevent House Bill 1313 from advancing.

"Without this legislative threat, there’s no doubt Merrillville would not be giving this issue the time of day," she said in the statement.

Guernsey said the measure had no impact on the town's decision to change its ordinance.

House Bill 1313 was heard by the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee last week.

The House committee is expected to act on it this week.

Valparaiso also adopted rules requiring landlords to register each of their rental units with the city. A one-time $10 fee is charged for each unit, and the city waived that fee for the first two months after the registration rules were adopted in 2011, Valparaiso Building Commissioner Vicki Thrasher said.

The city collected about $5,500 since the fee was enacted, Thrasher said.

Rental units can be inspected if the city receives complaints about them.

There is no charge if no violations are discovered, but a $50 inspection fee would be issued if violations exist, Thrasher said.

Crown Point Mayor David Uran said the rental housing regulations adopted by City Council last year are an example of the right way to handle rental housing rules.

The city's ordinance calls for registration of rental units and making them subject to inspection. An annual registration fee of $50 and an additional $20 per rental unit has been set.

Nearly 1,500 units had been registered with the city by the Dec. 28 deadline last year, generating fees of just more than $49,000, according to the city.

The revenue is placed in a non-reverting fund to be used only for costs associated with administering the housing regulations.

City officials said the rules were long overdue and will protect against poor housing conditions and overcrowding, and ultimately will protect the city's overall character and value.

Uran is aware of the proposed legislation which could ban rental registration fees.

Until a proposed measure becomes law, "you can't be too reactive to it," Uran said.

Although some communities charge rental registration fees annually and generate large amounts of funds from therm, there are some municipalities which handle the fees differently.

Whiting had charged an annual fee on rental units. Now registration of rental properties is required once or when there's a change in owners, Whiting Clerk-Treasurer Mark Adam said. The city charges $10 per rental property and brought in $250 under the ordinance last year, Adam said.

Times reporters Susan Erler and Chelsea Schneider Kirk contributed to this article.

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