Section O needs proper modifications, but will be good for Bowling Green

Phil Schurrer and Phil Schurrer

Back in 1981, a proposal was put before the Bowling Green City Council to license rental housing. The concern was that rental housing conditions were deteriorating. The council defeated the proposal 6-1. Fast forward to December 2008. A similar proposal was on the council’s table. The former councilman who proposed the ordinance 28 years ago was present and reminded council of east side citizens and how they are affected by rental housing conditions. Several weeks later, council again voted against the proposal – this time unanimously. But, merely because a proposal was voted down twice in a quarter century does not automatically make it a bad idea. Matter of fact, the idea has some merit. Let’s take a look at the facts. Bowling Green has a housing problem. According to the assistant municipal administrator, as noted in the Toledo Blade, over half the housing units in the city are rental units. Students make up the biggest single pool of renters. It’s no secret there seems to be wide opposition to the proposal, both from students as well as some landlords, although for very different reasons. If I understand their position correctly, students feel licensing would allow a building inspector to knock on their door at any time, gain entry and then proceed to prowl around to his or her heart’s content. A denial of privacy seems to be at the heart of their fears. And possibly with good reason, if – and it’s a big if – inspectors would be unregulated and subject to no constraint whatsoever. Some landlords are opposed to licensing rental units because they fear it would only add costs and an additional layer of bureaucracy to their burden. I can sympathize with the landlords to some extent. I have a relative who is in the residential leasing business, and the stories he tells involving tenant neglect and vandalism would discourage anyone from entering the business. Still, there’s no question the appearance of some of the rental units is troubling. Some of the remarks made at recent council meetings bear this out. Given the current state of rental property conditions, the question posed is a simple one: What student wants to live in a pigpen? And what landlord would want his property to deteriorate? Furthermore, what homeowner would want to see his or her property values decline due to being in proximity of such a rental unit? The reasons are money, money and powerlessness, respectively. Run-down properties generally rent for less; it costs money to maintain property; and the neighboring homeowner has little control over his or her surroundings. Judging from the remarks made at the city council’s meeting, there were a number of landlords opposed to Section O. The main reason given is the expense involved in additional maintenance required by the inspectors and the extra time and red tape involved in licensing. So the students and many landlords find themselves in the curious position of being on the same side, albeit for vastly different reasons. There may be a way out of this impasse, for certainly no one seriously believes this controversy will go away quietly. One possible resolution would be to reduce the level of financial and administrative burden on the landlord. The best way to achieve this would be a meeting of the appropriate members of the city administration and the landlord group. The licensing of rental units should not be an occasion to impose an undue burden on rental property owners. Nor should it give inspectors a carte blanche right of unlimited entry. In any case, the passage and enforcement of Section O, with proper modifications, will contribute to the greater good: a more attractive student housing inventory and the maintenance and improvement of housing values. It’s a change we can live with both now and in the future.