Some communities may change how they regulate rentals to protect property values and improve living conditions for tenants, but questions remain about the feasibility of enforcement, given continually diminishing time, money and manpower.
Hamilton Township residents and officials are considering the issue now.
Renters live in 21 percent of properties in Hamilton Township, about even with the 20.9 percent in Galloway Township. Both rates significantly surpass Egg Harbor Township’s 8.3 percent, but fall well below the 32.9 percent national, 32.7 percent statewide and 29 percent countywide averages, according to U.S. Census data from 2008.
“That number could probably be higher as you get into more difficult economic times, but in the interest of public safety and public health, I think this is a worthwhile endeavor (now),” Hamilton Township Mayor Roger Silva said.
Silva spoke during a recent Township Committee meeting where he, Deputy Mayor Charles Cain Jr., resident Cheryl Fetty and others discussed the matter.
Rentals in Hamilton Township are also less affordable and less likely to have complete plumbing facilities than those elsewhere, but more likely to offer telephone lines and kitchens, U.S. Census data show.
Cain owns rental properties himself and said he sees a need to provide resources for tenants with landlords who are, unlike him, negligent. He recently brought the matter to the Smart Growth Sub-Committee, an offshoot of the local Planning Board.
Committee member John Pucci, of the township’s Reega area, owns rentals in Brigantine. He lauded the island city’s approach and suggested they model their new regulations accordingly.
Brigantine developed its rules during the early 1990s to crack down on deteriorating properties.
The city requires property owners to obtain a certificate of habitability before they can rent a house, apartment or condominium. The requisite annual inspection, Pucci said, is extremely meticulous. It costs $100. A fee-based system would mean the mechanism could be self-funded, Pucci said.
That would allow the township to absorb the associated increased workload by paying overtime or hiring sub-contractors for inspection and enforcement.
It also requires all taxes and municipal utility bills to be paid, according to Brigantine’s code.
“That might be a reason to fast-track the rental inspection ordinance,” Pucci said.
Brigantine violators have 60 days to address any issues that prevent them from passing inspection. After that, the tenants have to leave, according to city code.
The responsibility inherent in forcing people out concerned some local officials. Others wondered how they would enforce the new rules, given how difficult it already is to keep up with code violators.
Regardless of the exact details, Fetty hopes the increased pressure on landlords will alleviate her concerns about how neighboring rental properties affect the value of her home. Fetty has long lobbied local elected officials to address what she says are poorly maintained homes in her neighborhood. The local historic district encompasses Fetty’s Pennington Avenue neighborhood.
The designation means any changes to the landmarked properties must adhere to guidelines intended to protect their historic character. That often increases time and costs for improvement projects that some landlords might already feel less incentive to complete, given they aren’t actually living in the residence, she said.
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