By The Advocate
After taking the issue up again at its December 26 meeting, the City Council is no closer to finding a compromise on a proposed change to the city’s habitability inspections ordinance, with public safety officials no less fearful of the change’s impacts and the city solicitor no less concerned that the amendment might not even be enforceable.
The City Council has been considering an amendment to its habitability inspections ordinance since May. Principally sponsored by Councillor-at-Large Michael Marchese, the amendment would prevent inspectors who are inspecting a vacant unit before its rental from inspecting another part of the property at the prompting of a tenant of a different unit without a separate appointment or permission from the landlord. Marchese has argued that the change is a necessary protection for landlords.
“The city has run roughshod over this,” said Marchese. “Whatever it is, it’s not treating for an unsanitary or unsafe place. If there’s a problem with an apartment, I’m sure the tenant will call long before they see inspectors walking through it.”
Ward 1 Councillor Fred Capone supported Marchese’s amendment, while allowing that tenants seeking for inspectors to address an urgent issue is a different matter. “Unfortunately, there are good landlords and good tenants, and bad landlords and bad tenants,” said Capone. I’d hate to see a tenant see this as an opportunity to badger a landlord. If it’s a legitimate concern, that supersedes everything here, but if it’s more of a nuisance thing, the tenant has the right to have it inspected, but I think it’s on them to make their own effort to have that inspection.”
However, public safety officials remained vehemently against the ordinance. Inspectional Services Director Jim Soper has repeatedly opposed the change, and Fire Chief Anthony Carli spoke against it last week, calling the original ordinance a “useful tool” for public safety officials in the city. “We never want to say we were at the house earlier today, or earlier this week, and we could have prevented some incident,” said Carli.
With Carli was Fire Captain Scott Dalrymple, who was seriously injured during last year’s major fire on Morris Street. “He’s evidence to what can happen when things are maintained in this city,” said Carli. “We’re not kicking in doors when we do these inspections. We want to make sure everyone is safe.”
Even if the City Council approved the change over the complaints of public safety officials; however, it’s possible that it wouldn’t even be enforceable. Assistant City Solicitor Kevin Slattery, in addressing the City Council on Monday night, stated that he believes the ordinance would be effectively nullified by state law, which allows a tenant to invite anyone into their unit. Slattery said that the tenant “has the right to allow entry when inspectors are on the property. Requiring that both the tenant and landlord both give consent when inspectors are on the property would seem to be unenforceable to me.”
Slattery’s comments led several councillors to wonder if they were wasting their time with the ordinance, which has taken up hours of discussion at City Council meetings over the last few months. “I wonder if we’re banging our heads against a wall,” said Ward 6 Councillor Michael McLaughlin.
The City Council ultimately referred the item to City Solicitor Colleen Mejia for further revie