Meriden officials disagree on rental inspection program

MERIDEN — The city’s certificate of compliance program is facing elimination as a result of Mayor Manny Santos’ exercising his veto power over the 2014-15 budget this week. The program requires the inspection of all rental housing units in the city every two years, which Santos says is a burden on private landlords.

“This will send a clear message that Meriden is serious about attracting private sector economic development and responsible landlords,” Santos wrote in his budget veto message sent to the City Council late Monday afternoon. “This current inspection program discourages investment in our city. It is an economic obstacle to the revitalization of Meriden.”

The City Council needs a two-thirds majority vote to override a mayoral veto. The council meets Thursday.

Some landlords argue that the program, on top of costing $25 for each unit inspection, can be costly when simple cosmetic repairs are required and could steer investors away from the city.

Four employees enforce the certificate of compliance program. Because 75 percent of the salary for each of the housing officials is paid by Community Development Block Grant funding, only $68,046 in funding was approved by the council for four staff members for next year. Santos estimated that about $70,000 would be freed up in CDBG funds and could be used elsewhere.

Santos’ veto eliminates one of the inspector positions. Santos said another inspector is expected to retire midway through the fiscal year. But City Development and Enforcement Director Dominick Caruso, who supervises the program, said no one had notified him about plans to retire.

City staff and some elected officials have said the program is needed to combat problem landlords, is a model for other cities, and prevents rental units and buildings from deteriorating.

“The elimination of the certificate of compliance program is just going backwards,” Caruso said. “If people think certain neighborhoods are not up to par right now with housing inspectors going in every two years, I’ll leave it up to their imaginations as to what it will look like after inspections are gone.”

In addition to inspecting all housing units regularly over two years, Caruso said housing inspectors also go on routine neighborhood walks looking at the exterior of buildings and yards, are responsible for making sure snow is cleared and lawns are cut when properties are vacant, and are in charge of relocation when necessary.

During a follow-up inspection of an eight-family house on Colony Street on Tuesday, Chief Housing Inspector Thomas Kilroy said that when he was at the property in December he found a damaged structural beam in the basement that could have led to a collapse of the three-story building. Kilroy notified the property owners of the major issue and some minor ones, which he re-inspected Tuesday.

“If not for the program, they would’ve never known,” Kilroy said, pleased with the repair. “It holds up the weight of the whole building.”

Renee Preece, whose family owns the property and the adjacent Northside Self Storage, said she was glad Kilroy found the problem and has never had any issue with the inspection program.

“I wouldn’t know some of the stuff that he finds ... (Kilroy) goes through and we fix what he says are problems,” Preece said, also noting scheduling has never been an issue.

Not all landlords have been in favor of the program, however, including Ross Gulino. Gulino said the program is a burden on good landlords and was glad to hear of the mayor’s decision.

“It’s music to my ears,” he said. “People see violations all the time — police officers, building officials, the health department — anybody can report code violations.”

Democratic Councilor Steven Iovanna, who is also a landlord in the city, said he has not been a supporter of the program, either, and hopes something different can be developed.

“The public needs to be focused on the real trouble areas and the bad landlords, if you want to call them that,” Iovanna said. “This is a way to let people in Meriden and around the state know that we want to encourage investors to come to Meriden and improve the housing stock.”

Iovanna said the city will need to “fill the void of that program,” but in a way that only punishes the “bad landlords” who do not keep up their property.

Council Majority Leader Matthew C. Dominello disagreed, stating that the program has been administered well and has helped to keep properties in good shape. Dominello added that the program protects tenants from poor landlords and it generates more than $120,000 in revenue each year.

dbrechlin@recordjournal.com 203-317-2266 Twitter: @DanBrechlinRJ



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