VALPARAISO | Tenants joined landlords in voicing disagreement with the city's plan to enact a rental registration ordinance that would require all landlords to register and pay an inspection fee for each unit they own or manage.
The city's Rental Registration Committee met for the third time, but it was the first meeting at which the public was invited to speak. About 25 came out in the heavy snow to present objections, ask questions and, for one tenant, tell the committee the city would be violating his privacy rights with its inspection proposal and it should "stay out of my face."
"The city is charging $25 (for the inspection), and it's not going to fix anything," the man said. "I'm tired of you taking my money, and I want none of this."
About a dozen people spoke to the committee. Some said the afternoon meetings made it difficult for most people to attend. Others reminded the committee of the promise tenants would be included on the panel and none has been appointed.
"I signed up for the committee, but I don't expect to be appointed because I am a big mouth," one woman said.
She said Valparaiso could solve the problem by issuing a publication with information on where tenants can call with complaints that also would protect tenants' identity if they feared landlord retaliation. She added, if the city wants to do inspections, it should come up with its own funds instead of making others pay for it.
Mark Conover, of the state's apartment association, said similar ordinances have come up in many places lately. He said the city needs to determine the problem it hopes to address and deal with that rather than including everyone. He said some communities pass the ordinance and collect the fees but never get around to doing the inspections or enforcing it.
Fire Chief David Nondorf defended the need for the city to have some kind of ordinance regulating rental units.
"As a firefighter, we get to see the best and the worst of people," Nondorf said. "We do have a problem with some of the rental units. How big a problem, we don't know. I think that's part of what this ordinance will address."
He cited instances where firefighters have encountered rentals where windows were nailed shut or where people were living in attics with no windows. From a safety standpoint, the ordinance is definitely needed, he said.
Bob Schwartz said the key to the ordinance is to do something to change the behavior of both lax landlords and tenants who cause problems.
Chairman Bruce Berner said a subcommittee including himself, Building Commissioner Vicki Thrasher and committee member Jeff Sederberg will try to come up with the actual cost of the inspection program.
"If we can't deal with that, we can't deal with the rest of the issues, like fees," he said.