We have a lot of issues on our plate in Kent, but none is bigger than Kent’s neighborhoods. 2007 is turning out to be the year of neighborhood enrichment. The Community Development staff, working with the Police, Fire, and Health Department, is leading a series of initiatives aimed at preserving, restoring and enriching at-risk neighborhoods. Last week I put up a post that outlined the kinds of problems that some of our neighborhoods are experiencing, e.g., high rental rates, exterior maintenance, weeds/grass, rooming house violations, etc. Based on that data, Gary Locke (Interim Community Development Director) presented City Council with 4 concepts that other cities have used to combat the same problems. Council endorsed the concepts and asked staff to continue work towards their implementation. Here’s Gary’s memo that outlines those concepts.
May 30, 2007
TO: Dave Ruller City Manager
FROM: Gary Locke Plans Administrator
RE: Neighborhood Enhancement / Code Enforcement Proposals
Over the past several months, a good deal of attention and concern has been directed at attempting to find ways to better address and resolve some of the issues facing the City and its neighborhoods as we attempt to enhance the quality of life in our neighborhoods. There has been some limited discussion of several of these items by staff and Council but nothing in any detail. In an attempt to further these discussions to the point where specific recommendations can be made to Council for consideration, I have prepared a summary of each of the concepts that I believe should be considered. While these alternatives may not solve all of the problems that we currently see, I believe that they can make a substantial positive impact within the community. There will be some cost associated with doing these things and that is something that will need to be considered. While our evaluation is not far enough along to be able to identify specific costs, I will attempt to identify potential cost considerations associated with each concept.
It is important to establish early in this discussion that the problems facing our neighborhoods are not unique to Kent, nor are they solely a function of the rental housing market or owner occupied properties. They are not singularly a function of the student population, family households, or other household types. They are a result of a combination of all of the above. Our problems are a result of people not caring in some cases, not being able to afford making certain improvements in some cases, or not taking pride in caring for their homes and surroundings. Some may not feel invested in their neighborhoods since their tenure there may be only short term. We all know that our best neighborhoods are those where people know each other and work as a team to maintain their homes and their neighborhood with an element of mutual respect for each other. Where we see problems, often just the opposite is the case. As we consider the problems and how to deal with them, we should keep these things in mind.
The concepts are described below:
International Property Maintenance Code
That the City adopt the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) in place of its current Exterior Maintenance Code.
The City adopted an Exterior Maintenance Code in 1997 found in Chapters 1381 through 1391of the Kent Codified Ordinance. The current regulations only apply to the exteriors of residential properties. It may also be applied to vacant commercial and industrial structures.
The IPMC has been adopted by various jurisdictions across the country and by a number of municipalities in the State of Ohio. It does not just deal with the exterior of structure but rather the entire structure both interior and exterior. It also is applicable to all structures both residential and commercial, regardless of whether the structures are vacant or occupied. The IPMC would also give the City the authority, upon complaint, to deal with deteriorating interior conditions within structures, including all mechanical systems.
1. Additional workload for the Building Department and/or Health Department and what is needed to address that workload.
2. May be perceived by public as being more intrusive than existing code since it also includes the interior of structures and all commercial buildings.
3. Should create a higher standard of upkeep for structures, may be difficult for elderly and poor to deal with financially.
Comments: The IPMC will set a higher standard for building maintenance than any code the City currently has. It could generate considerable demand on staff time and it would appear necessary that at a minimum, the part time Code Enforcement Officer in the Community Development Department should be upgraded to a full time position. The IPMC, like most codes, will only be as effective as its enforcement. Compliance may be difficult for the poor and elderly.
Recommendation: That Council consider the adoption of the IPMC and consider upgrading the Code Enforcement Officer in the Community Development Department to a full time position.
To implement a ticketing system for various zoning and non-zoning code violations.
Most code enforcement items are dealt with using a system of letters to violators, which if not resolved, require referral to the Law Department and the filing of a complaint in the common pleas court. The current process tends to be slow and incurs considerable staff time and we do not always get the desired decision through the courts.
The primary benefit of a ticketing system would be to speed up enforcement resolution given the potential monetary penalty to the violator and to potentially decrease staff time and court time. A secondary benefit would be that the system could generate some revenue however such revenues are not considered to be substantial. The system, if effective, could serve as a deterrent to future violations.
1. Determining what zoning / non-zoning code violations can be addressed with ticketing. Can it be used to cover building, health, fire, Junk car parking, etc?
2. Can system be used to address “internal” violations as well as those obvious from the outside of the structure. The Toledo system appears to primarily address “external” violations that can be seen and photographed without entry.
3. Can system be implemented within existing code and legal structure – what changes are needed? A Housing court?
4. If system is implemented across departmental lines, record keeping / computerization may need to be modified.
Some additional study of the Toledo system is needed and consultation with the Law Department and other city departments is warranted. The above issues need to be looked at and potential cost implications evaluated. This proposal does not seem to generate a need for additional personnel, however there could be some computer hardware and software costs.
To continue to have staff evaluate system for implementation and come back to Council in August / September 2007 with specific recommendations on implementation.
Business Licensing of Rooming Houses / Apartment Complexes
To regulate rooming houses and apartment complexes as business uses, establish a licensing procedure that broadly addresses a variety of requirements and which when issued, indicates that the property satisfies all of the requirements of the City.
The Health Department currently issues a license to what the Environmental Housing Code calls a “multiple use structure” which includes all apartment complexes and most but not all rooming houses. This license indicates compliance with only the City’s Environmental Housing Code. Many of the traditional “rooming houses” in the City and most of the apartment complexes are licensed as multiple use structures. Many of these same properties are also grandfathered under the City’s zoning laws as legal, nonconforming uses.
There are several potential benefits to both the City and the community in considering such a program. One of these would be to create a comprehensive system for regulating such uses as businesses and creating a set of standards and requirements for all such properties to comply with. Compliance with these requirements would have to be demonstrated prior to the issuance of a license. Currently, the collective set of regulations governing these types of properties do not mesh well and do not assure the adequacy of a facility. The issuance of a single license should indicate that a property meets all the requirements necessary to operate legally. The current system can be very confusing to the public.
Dealing with such uses as a business use and issuing one license on a recurring basis (annually or otherwise) also puts the City in a position to ensure that each of the properties being licensed has adequate services and facilities to accommodate the people living in the unit. Coupled with the IPMC and some other potential areas such as electrical and safety inspections, we may actually be able to do a better job of making sure the properties are safe and adequate for the tenants. One possible example would be to require, prior to annual licensing, an inspection by a licensed electrician certifying that the home’s electrical system is adequate to a specified level. This currently is not part of the licensing process.
The property would still have to be legal under the zoning code and the licensing should be predicated on the property meeting certain criteria and demonstrating that it can function adequately with regard to health, safety and the welfare of the neighborhood and the community.
1. Workload impact and which department is assigned the task of administering the licensing program.
2. Determining the criteria to be met in order to obtain or renew a license. These criteria should include:
a) Demonstrating zoning compliance as either a permitted, conditionally permitted, or legal nonconforming use.
b) Identifying the number of tenants permitted in the house by lease (consistent with City requirements), including their names on the lease and providing a copy of the lease to the City.
c) That a certain number of parking spaces are available on-site or off-site (written agreement) based on the number of tenants at the property. The ratio of parking spaces required would need to be determined and could be based on zoning requirements.
d) Property owner name, address and phone numbers. If the property is managed by another entity, the same information for the property manager.
e) Identification of the entity providing garbage and trash removal service and the day on which the trash pickup will occur.
f) Pre-licensing certification that electrical system in house is safe and adequate based on city derived checklist certified by a licensed electrician.
g) Compliance with all City code requirements, including up-to-date utility payments.
3. Determining how often a license is to be issued (annually, every two years, etc).
Comments: Arguably, the current system does not work too well and is not effective in addressing some of the problems that we are seeing with some properties. In looking at a new system, we should discuss whether there are ways to hold the tenants responsible for certain problems as compared to the landlords. One example would be in the area of litter pickup and noise. This process and its potential to be effective is also dependent on staffing time and how many resources the City allocates to this. Any specific proposal on implementing such a system will need to have some opportunity for public input and needs to be thoroughly considered by all City Departments involved.
Recommendation: Council should give staff some direction on whether it wants to further consider implementing such a system before staff invests substantial time and effort into developing a system. If Council is favorable to this, staff should attempt to develop a specific proposal that can be submitted to Council before the end of the year.
OTHER ISSUES –
Point of Sale Inspections
While not developed in any detail, staff is also considering the concept of a “Point of Sale” inspection requirement that would be applied to all properties. This would expand the current practice of issuing zoning / use certificates into an actual inspection process that would address specific building, property maintenance and zoning requirements. Staffing and liability issues related to this type of requirement will need to be considered and some evaluation of how other communities handle such requirements should be undertaken. Further information will be provided to Council once this concept has been developed further.
Cc: James Silver, Law Director
Gene Roberts, Director of Public Service
William Lillich, Safety Director
James Peach, Police Chief
James Williams, Fire Chief
John Ferlito, Health Commissioner
Lt. Cole, Kent Police Department
Eric Fink, Assistant Law Director
Bob Nitzsche, Building Services Supervisor
Heather Phile, Development Planner