Portland landlord registrations exceed 50%

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PORTLAND — The head of the new city Housing Safety Office says he is pleased with the rate of required landlord registrations.

“I think we are right on track,” Art Howe III said Monday about the response from landlords.

Data provided by City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin showed the new department has processed more than 1,600 registrations and billed almost $230,000, based on the annual $35 per unit fee. The registrations cover more than 6,600 rental units.

Building owners have paid $78,000 so far, because the revenue was offset by almost $60,000 in discounts landlords received, including more than $16,500 for fully sprinklered buildings, $15,000 for buildings with centrally connected fire alarms, and $12,000 for buildings with no-smoking policies. The annual fees can be no less than $15 per unit, no matter how many discounts potentially apply to a building.

The Housing Safety Office has yet to process almost 800 online applications. Once completed, the city will have processed 2,400 registrations from an estimated 4,000 building owners. The registrations received will cover nearly 9,000 of the estimated 17,000 privately owned rental units, as well as 1,000 units owned and operated by nonprofits and the quasi-governmental Portland Housing Authority.

“Given the complexity of discounts, I think we have made it pretty easy for people not to have to come in and (register),” Grondin said of online registrations that almost double the 822 in-office registrations received.

The Housing Safety Office was established by the City Council in July, which set the $35 per unit fee and budgeted $416,500 for the office, intended to be raised through registration fees. The discounts were approved in September.

With the level of compliance estimated at more than 50 percent, Howe and Grondin said a second effort is underway to reach owners and tenants. About 3,600 postcards will be mailed this week to remind people about the required registrations.

Failure to register can lead to a $100 fine per day, but the city will not begin enforcing the ordinance penalties until Feb. 1. The registration deadline was actually Jan. 1, and Howe and Grondin said it was important for everyone to know who has to register.

“A rental unit is any portion of any residential structure that is rented or available to rent for any length of time to an individual(s) who is not the owner(s),” according to the ordinance.

Howe and Grondin said this includes “in-law” apartments, rooms and homes –and units rented for short-term stays on websites like Airbnb.

Howe said he and Ian Houseal, the office coordinator, have been reviewing applications for three inspector positions, but have not interviewed any candidates. The scope and details of the inspection program are still under discussion by Howe, Assistant Fire Chief Keith Gautreau and other city staff.

Howe estimated a full inspection program could take two or three years to implement. New inspectors will need to learn about state and national standards and certifications.

“It will be a very significant part of the upfront training,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.