Our View: New Bedford Problem Properties need two-part solution

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It’s been a year since New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s first attempt at an ordinance that tries to hold accountable landlords of “problem properties.”

The new version was worked out with the City Council’s Ordinance Committee and reflects good compromise on the differences between the administration and the council.

It was wise to exclude the sticky issue of code violations from the ordinance, allowing the drafters to focus on police issues.

However, that means they should waste no time before tackling code violations.

Handling problem properties, that is, rental properties where public safety or sanitary issues are present, entails oversight by police, fire, health and building departments. The proposed ordinance deserves passage by the City Council, but that only covers the Police Department’s authority to make sure tenants have safe and healthy neighborhoods, and that landlords’ property is protected. Non-judicial enforcement of health, fire and building codes is just as important to the process, and just as important to protecting rights of both tenants and landlords.

When first brought to the council last August, the mayor had hoped to implement a $25-per-unit inspection fee in buildings of 10 or fewer units every three years. Council members objected at the time, arguing against “taxing” even the landlords who were careful about whom they rented to, and were conscientious about their property.

The fee would go toward paying for the city’s code inspections, and would give landlords and tenants each the benefit of setting a baseline for the condition of an apartment before move-in.

Leaving this work undone would be a greater “tax” than the 50 cents per week paid into the enforcement system.

This should be seen as a first attempt, just as the police ordinance needed cooperation and compromise between the administration and City Council. Whether $25 is the right amount should be left to another negotiation process.

But it should not be left undone. The sooner the new proposal is passed, and the sooner a code ordinance is drafted and passed, the sooner good landlords and tenants will be able to feel secure in their businesses and homes, and the sooner those for whom the ordinances are designed are held to account for their shortcomings and derelictions.

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