Nelsonville Adopts Property Maintenance Code

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The city of Nelsonville has adopted a property maintenance code that requires rental housing inspections on a biennial basis and an annual $50 rental permit fee for landlords.

According to Nelsonville Code Enforcement Director Steve Pierson, it’s estimated that about half the housing stock in the city is comprised of rentals. He said based on estimates from the 2010 Census, the number of rentals in the city is around 1,200.

To implement the new law, Pierson said the city will hire a housing official who will essentially serve as a rental inspector. He said the $50 annual fee for landlords was calculated in a way to pay for the new program, which will include the housing official’s salary and benefits, uniform, transportation and office needs.

Pierson said he believes it will be feasible for one housing officer to do all the approximately 1,200 biennial inspections. As the former code enforcement officer in the city of Athens, he said that Athens has about 5,300 rentals inspected by four officers in an 18-month period. He said this equals out to approximately 1,300 rentals per officer.

The city of Nelsonville does not currently do rental inspections and Pierson said that if the city receives a complaint about a rental, it is often referred to the Athens City-County Health Department. Pierson said he is able to do inspections of the outside of properties — including rentals and owner-occupied dwellings as well as businesses — but not the interior. The new law will allow the housing officer to inspect the interior of rentals.

In addition to the biennial inspections, Pierson said the law will also require landlords to register their rentals, provide contact information of a local agent to care for the property (if the landlord does not reside in Athens or Hocking counties), and provide the number of units and parking spaces they own.

“The inspection is a very small component of the program,” he said.

According to Pierson, the process and procedures for the property maintenance code are still being formulated and a housing officer will have to be hired.

“It will still take a little time to get the program running,” he said. “It’s quite a change from anything that’s been in place before.”

However, Pierson said there is a possibility that some residents may try to get a referendum on the ballot to repeal the recently passed law. He said residents have 30 days after the passage of the ordinance to declare their intent to file a referendum in writing to the clerk of council. That deadline is Nov. 17. Pierson said that he’s heard some residents may try to put a referendum forward.

Local landlord Bill L’Heureux called the legislation a “necessary evil.”

“I see the necessity of it through the city’s eyes,” he said. “It’s a burden on the landlords, but almost a necessary kind of fee structure because of how Wild West-ish it’s been here in Nelsonville.”