INDIANAPOLIS | Seven months after state lawmakers imposed a temporary moratorium on new apartment registration or inspection ordinances and fees, landlords and cities appear no closer to agreeing how best to promote renter safety and minimize costs.
The arguments made to a legislative study committee reviewing the issue Wednesday were no different than the points made when the General Assembly debated the topic in February.
Several apartment owners and management company executives told the panel that cities like Hammond and Merrillville are charging excessive apartment registration and inspection fees to supplement their general fund budgets, and in some cases not even inspecting rental properties.
City officials said they need inspection programs to crack down on nonresident property owners that are regularly buying substandard housing, doing little to improve it and then renting it despite electrical hazards, plumbing leaks and other dangerous conditions.
They also pointed out it's illegal to spend registration and fee revenue on anything other than building department services.
The Republican-controlled committee seemed to favor the landlords' call to extend the moratorium beyond July 1, 2014.
The committee chairman, state Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, allowed every person in attendance supporting the moratorium to speak, while more than two dozen people calling for rental inspections were turned away.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr., was among those snubbed. He was next to speak about Hammond's ordinance when Buck cut off discussion.
"That's a joke. I represent 80,000 people and they don't want to hear it. That's a joke," McDermott said afterward. "Maybe they just don't like to hear about the laws they pass here (at the Statehouse), what kind of effect they have on cities like Hammond."
McDermott said landlord claims that Hammond does not inspect apartments are not true.
"They let somebody go in there and lie about how we do it and they don't give me a chance to rebut. That's classic," McDermott said. "We use our money appropriately, in accordance with state law."
After Buck silenced discussion, state Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, played the role of peacemaker.
He emphatically urged landlords and cities to get together and reach an agreed solution before the Legislature convenes in January, or risk lawmakers coming up with a plan that neither side likes.