Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is landlord "compromise" in jeopardy?

Based on comments at Monday's City Council meeting and at the Tuesday City Council candidate forum in East Charlotte, I count at least five council members who have indicated they support a landlord registry program as originally proposed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department: All residential rental property owners would have to register and pay a small fee.

But the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition lobbied against that proposal, so the City Council committee studying the matter (Democrats Warren Turner and Patsy Kinsey, and Republicans Edwin Peacock and Andy Dulin) ordered a "compromise." The compromise would register only the worst of the landlords - worst being the ones at the top of the list for criminal activity, etc.

However, council members Turner, James Mitchell, Michael Barnes and Nancy Carter all said they support full registry, not partial. Anthony Foxx did not stake himself out Monday but asked a question in order to elicit the answer that full registration would noticeably reduce the registration fee, as it would be spread over a much larger number of landlords.

Kinsey, who is on the committee that coughed out the compromise, pointed out that the compromise was the only way to get the proposal out of committee, as they were stalemated.
Susan Burgess said at the forum Tuesday she supports full registration.

If Kinsey OR Foxx were to vote for full registration rather than partial, that measure would pass.

But, as Burgess said when I asked her Tuesday about it, 6-5 isn't a veto-proof vote. Would the mayor veto it? She said she didn't know.

For those who haven't checked in on this issue, the police want a way to get problem landlords to the table to talk with police about measures to reduce crime on their properties. Police also want a way to be able to find out who the property owners are. They say it can be difficult to find telephone numbers or responsive people with some out-of-town property owners. Neighborhood activists over the years say the same thing - some property owners really don't want to be found.

The question is whether it's worth the hassle of citywide registration to get to the comparatively few landlords causing problems. REBIC and the apartment association don't think it is. The police originally said it was. (The staff needed for the program would be funded with the fees.) When told to "compromise," of course, they dutifully complied.

Key fact: The matter comes before the council in November - after the election. So anything can happen.


Anonymous said...

This is one of those ideas that sounds great on paper, but in practice will be a tinkering cymbal signifing nothing. "Neighborhood activists over the years say the same thing - some property owners really don't want to be found."

A very accurate statement. So how is declaring they must pay a landlord fee going to change that? Call me crazy, but I doubt a declaration that all landlords now owe a fee is going to make hidden landlords jump out of the shadows and say, "OK, here I am! Let's talk crime prevention."

My condo complex has 24 units and, to the best of my knowledge, my wife and I are the only ones that are living in the unit they own. Some owners don't even live in NC, and some of the tenants have a hard time getting their owners to make sme needed repairs. This "landlord fee" wouldn't change anything.

Mary Newsom said...

Dear "J" - I agree that many of these kinds of measures don't work the way they are intended. But to clarify, it's not the fee, it's the registry that they think will make a difference. There are penalties involved, the most severe one being loss of the ability to rent the property.
And the proposal is modeled on ones in other cities, so they've looked at what worked and what didn't in other places.

David I said...

This seems like an incredibly absurd idea. As the article clearly admits, the problems are isolated to a very small amount of landlords. Yet the solution proposed is charge ALL landlords a fee. Are these crimes being committed the result of an action by the landlord or the current tenants? If it's the tenants, why not simply charge the tenants? If it's the owners, who the story states most are out of town landlords, exactly what crime are they committing? Maybe this is a story that you have to follow to completely understand as this particular piece certainly didn't let me know what type of crimes are being committed. I just don't see the point in making the majority pay for the crimes of the very few. Regardless of the amount of the fee.

Also, why not simply check with the Deeds office to find these few landlords? It's available online. They have to get their tax bill somehow. Oh wait, that solution is way too simple for politicians.

Anonymous said...

Consider what neighborhood activists with the right "activism" could have done in the Dunbar Village torture case in south Florida.
Aside from the danger of intervention, there is also the "no snitch" rule that keeps alot of crime from being prosecuted.
I'm not sure if this new policy is for effective crime prevention or a revenue enhancer for city gov.

Mary Newsom said...

The fees charged would just cover the cost of the program. It's not a revenue-enhancer for city govt.
So the dilemma is that the more people paying the fees, the lower the fees would be. Fewer landlords registered means higher fees for them, which get passed on to renters.
It was the police, not the pols, who proposed the registry, as a crime-fighting tool.

Anonymous said...

Mary, you are too polite and too politically correct. You need to go for the jugular and tell it like it is.

You wrote “… the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition lobbied against that proposal, so the City Council committee studying the matter (Democrats Warren Turner and Patsy Kinsey, and Republicans Edwin Peacock and Andy Dulin) ordered a ‘compromise’. The compromise would register only the worst of the landlords.”

Well, Andy Dulin is a realtor, so gee … I wonder which political side refused to go along with the police department’s proposal and caused the stalemate while crime is on the rampage here in River City? Whom of the foursome could the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition possibly sway? And which freshman councilman would be likely to defer to his senior counterpart? Duh!

I would have sent some stringer sent to the Board of Elections to see if the RE&BIC were adhering to campaign contribution laws, and whether any of the four committee members had received contributions from them or REBIC associates in the past. Of course, the city attorney would claim as usual that no council ethics standards were violated.

I have rewritten your paragraph:

“The Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, which has undue influence on and into the governmental affairs of this city, succeeded once again in thwarting efforts to reduce crime in Charlotte and benifited its members and fellow travelers, thanks to local realtor and real estate representative on council – Andy Dulin.”

In fact, my guess is that the only reason it finally came out of committee is because with the election just over the hill, someone didn’t want voters to associate this politicking with him.

Scott said...

A new ordinance should be focused on the problem, which is crime and disorder. According to CMPD a few property owners are not doing what they should do to help minimize crime and disorder at their properties. I am fully supportive of the idea of making these few "bad" property owners come to the table and work cooperatively to improve their properties. The bad property owners who refuse to participate or make reasonable changes should be subject to some type of progressive enforcement action, ultimately ending in the possible loss of their property.

I support the ability of CMPD and other government agencies to identify and contact property owners. What I am opposed to is the idea that we need a third redundant system of registering and identifying property owners. Both the register of deeds and the property tax systems have been in place for many years and are used to track and identify the owners of every property in Charlotte. With these two existing registries, the City has 100% coverage and a simple and complete inventory in place. We don't seem to have too much trouble knowing the legal owner of each parcel and billing/collecting property taxes and other fees that are due each year. We ought to be able to improve those systems for far less than what it would cost to create and maintain a third system. If we can't, then maybe the answer is to turn over the entire property tax and register of deeds systems to the private sector and save a lot of money. The wrong answer, in my opinion, is to say the existing systems can't be fixed or just accept that the operators of those systems don't want to be a part of the solution and require that CMPD set up a third system.

I also object to making all renters in Charlotte pay for a new redundant system of identifying the owners of properties when they already pay for their share of the cost of maintaining the two systems in place. A new renter "tax" for a third system is not the efficient way to achieve the result. Again, any identification problems should be corrected by "fixing" the current systems, not by creating a brand new system and a new revenue stream from all renters to pay for it.

In any event, if an ordinance is successful at reducing crime and disorder, the reduction in calls for service and other crime related costs should easily save money at CMPD instead of costing money. There is no reason to tax renters for a program that, if successful, should save the City a substantial amount of money.

Jumper said...

The issue goes to the heart of a philosophical question, whether property owners have a right to be completely anonymous. Many property owners like to set up or employ companies that use multiple layers of shell corporations, which are legal, but make forensic investigations difficult.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

If Charlotte had a city income tax – and I’m NOT suggesting they should – the total registration of residential rental property owners would already be a done deal. The IRS and NCDOR would pay the city handsomely for that little black book to see who is reporting income and who isn’t. Maybe that’s why REBIC and the apartment association oppose this so vehemently?

Maybe the elderly guy down the street who is renting rooms to who-knows-whom, or the couple who left the ‘hood and rent to the family that has five cars and two teens who smoke pot on the front porch weekday after school, will finally have to pay their fair share of income taxes. At least that extra revenue which is now lost in our nefarious “cash economy” will help pay the added costs with which landlords burden us.

As for the fee, which should be based on the number of units available for rent, square-footage or some other progressive means, the big “legitimate” tax-paying landlords will (1) deduct as an expense while (2) increasing rents, and the effect will be zilch on everyone except the renter. Sort of like having the culprits most likely to start trouble to pay a nonrefundable deposit as a deterrent. Big deal!

Next up: Require all lawn service businesses to register with the city so we can weed out both the tax dodgers and the illegal aliens.