Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ordinance #03-09 - Landlord Certification Program

Yesterday evening, after six months of sometimes heated discussion and a five-hour City Council meeting, Ordinance #03-09 passed. Your City Council Democrats resisted intense pressure from Indianapolis led Indiana Apartment Association lobbyists (representing apartment industry professionals), to pass an ordinance revision which enumerates, for the sake of clarity, what has been case law in this state since 1998 when the Court of Appeals found for the City in West Lafayette v. Benjamin. The Appellate Court vindicated the city’s housing and rental ordinance again in December of 2008 in its judgment against Dr. Jerry and Patti Weida.

Addressing the Court’s concern that the ordinance might be “ambiguous”, we moved into the ordinance those particulars which Superior Court Judge Thomas Busch noted ought to “put on inquiry” rental corporations regarding the over-occupancy of their premises. Despite the “sturm und drang” of yesterday evening there is nothing new here. The level of orchestrated outrage by the deep-pocketed rental corporations once again makes clear the need for the neighborhood to remain organized and attentive to the workings of city government.

The new thing, and for this we should thank Councilor Paul Roales and his committee, is the creation of the “Landlord Certification Program”. Our criterion for who is a “good” landlord is usually limited to those who have not been fined or sued. We obviously know who is a “bad” landlord. We have no standard for assessing who is a “good” or “better” landlord. (Councilor Roales proposal also extends a “carrot” to those who participate in this exercise; a small reduction in fees.)

Cities like Eau Claire, Wisconsin have such a program. My recent experience with this approach came while my daughter, who will be studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland, was researching housing. We don’t know anybody in Glasgow. How do we figure out, at this distance, whom it might be safe to rent from?

Not to worry. The five universities in the Glasgow area maintain a PAD :) or “Private Accommodation Database”, a centralized database of private sector accommodation available for rent to students attending all five institutions. In the interest of student safety, accommodation is not registered with PAD unless the landlord has confirmed that it conforms to the standards required to meet the PAD policy. Furthermore, the partner institutions have the right to verify the information provided and have sole discretion in advertising properties or including their details on the database and reserve the right to refuse to do so.

As Purdue changes leadership in its housing division, this may be the perfect time for Purdue (which once maintained an off-campus housing office) and the city to work together on a landlord certification program. So when some father, say, in Glasgow looks over the shoulder of his dear daughter, already concerned that she is coming to a scary place where they have guns but not health care, he can at least take comfort that somebody has taken the time to evaluate Purdue area rental properties.

We look forward to working with the Mayor and his staff on this project.

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