rental inspections and licensing

Landlord and renter responsibilities examined in BG

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In a college town with nearly 7,000 rental units, there’s an awful lot of headbutting between landlords and renters and homeowning neighbors. When problems occur with home maintenance, is it the landlords’ responsibility to prove that their housing meets safety standards? Or is the onus on the renters to notify authorities if their housing is substandard? For years, Bowling Green officials have debated this question. Other Ohio college towns – like Kent, Oxford and Athens – have mandatory rental inspection and licensing programs. Bowling Green has preferred to make sure there are services in place that respond to rental problems as they arise. Following are various viewpoints in Bowling Green, including those from Mayor Dick Edwards, BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey and landlord Bob Maurer. Those who respond to complaints – the health district, fire division, building inspection and planning office – also share their perspectives. People closest to the students, like BGSU legal services and some East Side residents, also weigh in. And officials from rental inspection programs in Athens, Kent and Oxford talk about their experiences. EYE-OPENING TOUR Early this fall, some BGSU students asked their professor Neocles Leontis to help them get out of a lease at a rental property they felt was unsafe. “I could not believe it was allowed to be rented,” said Rose Hess, who toured the house. Photos taken during the tour show a ceiling fan dangling from the ceiling, a filthy washing machine that wasn’t working, a dryer that was not vented, a stove that didn’t work, fuse boxes without covers, and bricks holding open windows. “These properties are unrentable, yet they are being rented,” Hess said. “We need interior inspections and licensing.” Leontis agreed. “Parents who send their kids to Bowling Green can have no assurance when they rent a house that it’s safe.” Inspections are required of restaurants – the same should be standard for rental housing, he said. “This should not be allowed. Your kid moves into a fire trap and you never know.” SAME HOUSE – DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES Of course, few issues are truly black and white. Even the rental property mentioned above is shaded with an awful lot of gray. The landlord reportedly rented the house to students who had difficulty getting others to rent to them. Bowling Green has several safety measures in place for renters who encounter problems with their residences. When complaints are received, city officials ask the Bowling Green Fire Division, Wood County Health District, or Wood County Building Inspection to check out the property. In the case of the house rented by Leontis’ students, Fire Chief Tom Sanderson also toured the residence. The fire division recently started a community risk reduction program, in which firefighters inspect multi-family residential sites. “We do not inspect individual residences,” unless there is a specific request, Sanderson said. Though this particular house had several deficiencies, as someone who frequently tours the inside of rental properties, the chief had a different perspective. “I don’t believe the home was unsafe,” he said. Though it may appear worrisome, the original wiring in the house is not inherently dangerous. “We find that all over the place,” Sanderson said of the old wiring. The health district’s role is similar, in that its inspectors only…