Tuesday, May 02, 2006

City Council Seeks Repeal Of Anti-Overcrowding Ordinance

Saying a plan to crack down on overcrowding has not worked out, city officials want to repeal a law requiring registration and inspection of one- and two-family rental properties.

The ordinance also called for annual city inspection of multi-family residences that normally receive state inspection every five years. Early projections of revenues from inspection fees ranged from more than $700,000 in the first year to $937,500 in 2007, but now the council wants to drop the program before the end of the 2006 fiscal year on June 30.

The plan involved establishing a new unit in Inspections, with a projected additional seven inspectors to concentrate on ferreting out overcrowding and illegal occupancies.

“The problem I have is, we spent a lot of money in having all these inspectors,” Councilman Don Davis said, adding that the program has been in existence two years and is not working.

Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said the program never really took hold, because new hires for the innovative enforcement unit dwindled away due to military call-ups, vacancies and even one death among the staff. Plans to have inspectors work evening hours have so far not panned out, due to problems with supervision and the fact that City Hall offices are not open after hours, she said.

Now the focus will be on consolidating the staff so a new assistant director, Nagy Sileem, and his newly-hired administrative assistant can keep tabs on the Inspections staff. Inspections activities and administration were scattered through the building when the Safe Housing plan was launched.

Because some of the new trainees upset residents with their aggressive enforcement, the division’s renewed goal will be to treat everybody with respect and address their concerns, Wenson Maier said.

Council President Ray Blanco said the Inspections Division has had problems for all the 30 years he has lived in the city. Councilwoman Linda Carter called for a more systematic way of evaluating the division’s efficiency and revenue production.

Councilman Rashid Burney said new software and computers had been purchased for the new unit and now “they’re sitting in a room somewhere.”

Blanco said if the council did not repeal the ordinance before the new fiscal year begins July 1, the program would go into the FY 2007 budget.

“I pity the poor Plainfield taxpayer,” he said. “We threw money at a problem, we threw staff on it, but we didn’t implement it during the past administration. So let’s cut our losses.”

The ambitious program was supposed to be the cure for the faulty Inspections Division, which former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams said generated the most complaints from residents during his two four-year terms.

The anti-crowding ordinance called for landlords to account for the number and identity of people living in rental units and also required them to provide floor plans of sleeping rooms. Landlords were to submit names of emergency contacts, fuel oil providers, trash haulers and their own correct addresses.

If the ordinance is repealed, landlords will still have to obey the city’s property maintenance code, register multi-family buildings with the state Department of Community Affairs and provide adequate heat, among other rules. Landlords are also expected to conform to the Certificate of Compliance program that requires each rental unit to be inspected before a new tenant moves in. But because the landlord must request the inspection, the division has no way of knowing when one is needed.

--Bernice Paglia


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