The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 8, 2013

Occupancy permit policy set for Conneaut council

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Legislation that would create a housing inspection program in Conneaut could come before City Council at Monday’s regular meeting.

The initiative, designed to improve the city’s housing stock, will be given a full three readings, meaning a final vote could come next month.

Discussed for months, council members at Monday night’s finance/ordinance committee meeting seemed ready to unveil the program. “I’d like to see it go to council as soon as possible,” said Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch, committee chairman.

Over the past several weeks, City Manager Tim Eggleston and his administrative staff tweaked and rewrote a program designed to ensure every resident lives in a decent dwelling. The program isn’t overly restrictive and only asks that owners keep property “safe, clean and free from damage.”

The program would require owners to obtain a permit before a house or apartment is occupied. A permit will be valid for an entire year, no matter how people come and go during the course of the next 12 months. A new inspection will be required for each new occupancy, however. If a house or apartment is found in stellar shape, that owner won’t need to renew a permit for two years as a reward for being responsible, Eggleston said.

Deanna Gates, the city’s planning/zoning manager, will oversee the inspection program if council OKs the ordinance. Inspections will be done within a few days of  receipt of a permit application, she said.

A temporary permit can be issued immediately after a successful inspection so landlords can quickly rent empty units, Eggleston said. If a problem is detected, owners will have the option to put down a bond equal to the estimated cost of repair, a move that would also speed up rental turnaround time.

The inspection checklist will not be exhaustive, concentrating on a just a few basic health and safety issues, council learned.

“There will be a cursory review of the property,” Eggleston said. “Real simple stuff. Get in and get out.”

The city inspector will not enter a dwelling while occupied and the owner will be encouraged to participate in the inspection, Eggleston said. An appeals process will also in the legislation, he said.

Council was pleased the program was not overly restrictive while keeping an eye on the welfare of the residents. “We’re not trying to hammer people or chase people away,” said Ward 2 Councilman Phil Garcia.

Over the years, the condition of Conneaut’s housing stock has consistently ranked the number one concern of community groups. Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch, who has led the charge for reforms and sat on a citizens’ committee that examined the problem, said Monday he was pleased with the proposed occupancy permit program.

“We’ve tried it a couple of different times (in the past),” he said.