The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 6, 2013

Conneaut’s housing chief backs inspection program

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Conneaut’s top housing official says inspections contained in a proposed occupancy permit program would help Conneaut improve living conditions for residents.

Deanna Gates, planning/zoning manager, told City Council’s finance/ordinance committee Monday night she has witnessed horrific housing conditions that could be addressed with municipal inspections.

“People buy houses on-line and never see them, but then use them for rentals,” Gates said. “I’m shocked that people try to live in these unsafe conditions. There is definitely a need for inspections.”

Council gave the permit program plenty of discussion. As envisioned, one permit per address would be needed when a change in occupancy — via sale or rental — occurs. The permit would be valid for one year, a boon to landlords who anticipate a lot of people coming and going under their roof within a 12-month span.

Gates, who would conduct the inspections, said the duty wouldn’t be a burden. “I’m willing to do it after hours and Saturdays because I recognize it needs to be done,” she said.

For 2013, Gates was moved to full-time status, requiring her to leave a comparable job in Geneva, where she did housing inspections for six years. Reaction to the program in that city varied, she said.

“Some people were really great, while some you had to chase down,” Gates said.

Proponents of the policy said the inspection would be very basic — a simple checklist of a few items. Gates would not climb into attics or poke around crawlspaces to look for plumbing or electrical problems, said City Manager Tim Eggleston.

“We just want to ensure that homes are reasonably safe and clean,” he said.

Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch, finance/ordinance committee chairman, agreed. “We want to keep it as small as possible to begin,” he said.

In subsequent committee meetings, council and administrators will collaborate on the list of items that would be examined by inspectors, LaRusch said.

The proposed policy would give owners 90 days to fix interior problems that are detected, and 180 days to correct exterior deficiencies. “That is very generous,” Eggleston said.

Ward 3 Councilman Richard McBride asked if the program could result in more vacant property, inferring owners may opt to leave buildings empty rather than make repairs required by the city. “Would you rather see vacant homes or someone living in (bad conditions)?” LaRusch replied.

Council can’t be timid on the inspection issue any longer, LaRusch said.

“(The subject) has been broached in the past, but died on council floor because some council members couldn’t take the pressure,” he said.