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Springfield To Reconsider Rental Registry

AP/American Red Cross

In Springfield, an ordinance requiring rental units to be registered and inspected has been put on hold, pending a town wide vote.

The measure was adopted this spring by the town select board. The re-vote was sparked by a petition circulated by landlords who object to the mandated inspections.

The idea for a residential rental registry started as a way to help firefighters navigate apartment buildings during serious fires.

Springfield town attorney Stephen Ankuda helped draft the ordinance. He says it will provide the fire department with much-needed information.

“We have a number of multi family, older buildings in Springfield,” Ankuda says, “And they will end up going to a fire in a building and they don’t know  the layout of the interiors of the building, how many apartments are there, or who to contact.”

The measure calls for apartment owners to register with the town and obtain a Certificate of Fitness. It would require inspections every five years to ensure that rental properties meet health and fire safety codes.

Ankuda says the inspection requirement wouldn’t go into effect for five years, unless the properties change hands.

Selectboard member David Yesman owns rental properties in town. He voted against the measure and worked with other landlords to petition for the revote, which is now scheduled for August 20th.

Yesman says he doesn’t object to the rental registry. But he says mandatory inspections are unworkable, unnecessary, and unfair to landlords who keep their properties in good condition.

“I think some of the purpose of this ordinance is to get the non-complying landlords, to force them into compliance,” Yesman says. “But the people that are already complying still have a risk of having extra violations put on them by different inspectors. So that means it’s going to cost the landlord some money to get things in compliance and either he’s going to have to take it out of his pockets, or he’s going to increase the rent.”

Yesman says existing laws allow the fire chief to inspect any of the thirteen-hundred rental properties in Springfield.

But town attorney Ankuda says that isn’t what happens.

“What happens is, if no one raises an issue, such as a disgruntled tenant” Ankuda counters, “Then no one is going to inspect, no one is even going to know that the unit is a rental. And with a rental registry we would know what the rental units are around town, and it would be a data base to make sure the units get inspected as they should be.”

Springfield Housing Authority Director William Morlock says it shouldn’t take an ordinance to identify substandard housing in town.

Morlock is an outspoken opponent of the new ordinance. His agency manages three hundred rental units in Springfield. He says they get enough inspections.

“We get inspected  by HUD, We get inspected by Vermont Housing Finance Agency, we do our own inspections,” Morlock says. “Everybody looks for a little something different.”

Morlock says any inspection is likely to find something wrong. And he thinks mandated inspections will take a financial toll on landlords.

But Jacob Speidel, an attorney in the Springfield office of Vermont Legal Aid sees it differently. If a building isn’t up to code, he says, the landlord should know.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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