Thursday July 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Local landlords will continue to pay a registration fee as part of a city ordinance requiring them to list their properties with the Pittsfield Board of Health.

The City Council has rejected Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s request to eliminate the annual charge due Jan. 1 under Chapter 31Ž2 of the city code approved by the council nearly two years ago.

By a 8-1 vote Tuesday night, the 11-member panel upheld the fee; Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi opposed while councilors Christopher J. Connell and Melissa Mazzeo abstained due to a conflict of interest. Connell is a Pittsfield landlord and Mazzeo’s family owns rental properties in the city.

Bianchi apparently had no qualms about the council’s decision.

"The council did a credible job of debating this with many valid points on both sides," the mayor said on Wednesday.

The registration requirement is part of the anti-blight package the City Council approved in October 2010. The regulations also established a fee structure for fines for unkempt residential properties and a hearings officer to resolve contested fines.

The majority of councilors felt the fee was still warranted to pay for the registration program.

"If you take out the funding mechanism, it’s tough to bring it back," Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. said following the council meeting. "It’s better to reduce it or increase it based on the cost of implementing the program."

However, city health officials had contended the fee that took effect Jan. 1, 2011, was unnecessary as the city’s cost to register landlords had dropped from $4,205 last year to almost $1,200 in 2012.

Morandi opposed the fee on principal.

"I think we’re penalizing good landlords for the bad [ones]," he said.

Landlords who manage non-owner occupied or vacant and foreclosed single- and multiple-family dwellings have to pay a $10 annual registration fee for the first property and $1 for each additional property they own.

The list of registered properties is intended to make it easier for the city to track down landlords if there are problems, such as blighted conditions, or in the event of a fire.

To date, 2,090 of Pittsfield’s 2,209 rental, empty or foreclosed residential properties are registered for 2012, a 95 percent compliance rate -- compared a 91 percent compliance rate last year.

The council did approve a pair of proposed changes from the Bianchi administration to make Chapter 31Ž2 more user-friendly. It agreed landlords should no longer be required to certify that their buildings lack code violations, something a trained inspector should be doing, according to city health officials.

And gone from the ordinance is a requirement that landlords post information so that tenants can contact them. The state’s health code already mandates landlords have their contact information readily available for the tenants. A sign is usually attached to the front of the residence with the property owner’s name or manager and their telephone numbers.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.