By EMMA BARTLETT
Council member John Donegan proposed an ordinance at Thursday’s meeting which would require landlords to have a certificate for safe occupancy for each dwelling …
By EMMA BARTLETT
Council member John Donegan proposed an ordinance at Thursday’s meeting which would require landlords to have a certificate for safe occupancy for each dwelling unit before renting a space.
“I think this is a monumental step we can take to ensure every renter in this city has a safe place to call home,” said Donegan.
He spoke about Cranston’s aging housing stock – which is higher on the eastern side of the city – and that with aging housing comes potential hazards and unsafe conditions. He said the city also has a lead issue and according to Rhode Island Kids Count data from 2021, 2.8 percent of Cranston’s school-aged students entering kindergarten tested positive for elevated lead levels. Additionally, the city has had issues with ensuring buildings are meeting state and local codes. In April 2021, the brick facade of a rental building on Bluff Avenue collapsed which displaced 10 to 15 tenants; in July 2021, a second floor walkway partially collapsed on Broad Street.
Donegan said that before coming on the council, he had never been a renter, owned property or rented to someone else.
“I was ignorant to some of the plight that tenants may face,” Donegan said.
He spoke of receiving a call from an Arlington neighborhood resident who had concerns about a unit they were living in. The heat wasn’t working, there was a leaky pipe and there was concern about water damage and the possibility of mold developing. Donegan said his reaction was to call the inspections department and the resident said ‘you can’t because they’d know I called and they wouldn’t renew my lease.’
“That was the first time I really had an experience or insight to the fact that while there might be protections on the book in law, it doesn’t actually address the problem. And so I thought we had to come up with a better way to be more proactive in our inspections to help ensure that no one has to live in unsafe conditions,” Donegan said.
The ordinance says by Jan. 1, 2025, owners of rental property in the city must apply for a safe occupancy certificate which would be good for three years. Individuals would apply, have their unit inspected to ensure the property is up to code and pay a $100 fee. It doesn’t apply to owner-occupied single family housing, owner occupied units or owners who accept vouchers. Donegan said he hopes that accepting vouchers would incentivize property owners and open up more opportunities to individuals.
Cranston’s Annette Bourne works as a housing research and policy analyst at HousingWorks RI and attests to receiving similar calls like the one Doengan received.
“I recognize that there are many lawful and caring landlords and I would hope that they might actually see this as a benefit to being able to rent their properties as well as perhaps creating more value for their property,” said Bourne.
Kim Lettieri, a longtime Cranston resident and Cranston Public Schools’ bus driver for 15 years said she has seen the different rental properties along her routes. She also said she has run into bad landlords.
“I’ve heard a lot about the costs involved, well, what’s the cost of a child’s life that has lead paint ingested? I’m pretty sure that’s a pretty big cost to put on anybody. I don’t think the city wants to be responsible for that and I’m sure a landlord doesn’t either,” said Lettieri.
Bruce Lane has been a landlord since 1984 and prides himself on taking care of his properties. He said he tries renting his property under market rent rates which he noted is “out of control” and that the added expense of inspections and time involved would give landlords another reason to increase their rents which he said are already unaffordable in the city.
“I just feel that myself and my wife who live on rental income are being penalized for those who don’t take care of their properties,” said Lane, noting that there is a component in place to take care of those who do not maintain their properties.
Chief of Staff Anthony Moretti spoke on the administration’s behalf.
“We feel that Councilman Donegan’s initiative is aspirational but perhaps not practical. We feel that the ordinance is more for the exceptions than the rule,” said Moretti.
He said Mayor Ken Hopkins is for safe occupancy for residents but the regulations are too onerous on the landlords.
“This ordinance would be unique to Cranston and will be a barrier to attracting investors to the city,” Moretti said.
The ordinance could burden the city’s resources in inspections and perhaps fire and be financially costly to the city. Moretti asked if additional cost to landlords would be passed onto the renters in an already stressed marketplace.
“The mayor feels the current laws and regulations of many facets – whether it be state, federal and local – are adequately addressing the fundamentals of safety of our residents,” Moretti said.
Assistant Solicitor John Verdecchia said that procedurally, the ordinance was not in its proper form because of the absence of a fiscal note which the City Charter requires if an ordinance has a foreseen financial impact. Since there are thousands of rental units in Cranston, there would be thousands of certificates along with thousands of inspections that would have to be conducted. With that would be an increase in labor hours and personnel, which translates to cost of the city.
The safe house occupancy ordinance will be reconsidered at the Ordinance committee’s June meeting on June 16 which will give more time to get a fiscal note and do a deep dive on the cost should the ordinance be approved.