Chris Bradford made an important point in the comments of my earlier post on rental registration. Both the Tovo and Spelman ordinances require the filing of a form to permit leasing of vacant units. Because a registration may be revoked or suspended, it elevates the ordinances to rental permitting policies instead of just registration.
Permits empower an important compliance measure – revoking an owner’s ability to lease vacant units. But under-developed ordinance language around the design of revocation and suspension powers puts tenants in the middle of a system with limited accountability.
Here’s how Chris put it:
This is a problem because both versions of the Ordinance allow the code official to not only suspend, but also to revoke a rental registration. “Suspension” of a rental registration prohibits a landlord from renting vacant units but does not affect a tenant’s right to remain. (It does affect the tenant’s right to sublet the apartment, however.)
Revoking the registration, however, appears to mean that the rental property is no longer registered. Which means the tenant no longer may occupy it. Which means the tenant commits an offense, punishable by a $500 fine even for unknowing violations, merely be remaining in the apartment. All without any provision of notice to the tenant of a pending revocation or opportunity to contest it (unless he happens to hear about it). The “registrant” gets notice of a pending suspension, not the tenants.
Note also that, as currently drafted, registration can be suspended and revoked for any uncured violations of code — they need not be health & safety related.
As currently drafted, this reads like a huge power grab by code enforcement, an administrative scheme that allows them to empty apartments without having to go to the trouble of showing safety or health violations. I hope (and believe) this will be corrected before tomorrow.
Note that many of the registration-related policies advocated by the Clinic’s reports and the Tovo ordinance (e.g. expansive form-filling or continuous, essentially untargeted inspections) are independent from a policy of preventing new leasing in dangerous properties. The language is also present in the Spelman ordinance, so even though the inspection focus is targeted the potential for code enforcement to put tenants in the crossfire is still there. Leasing revocation would be a compelling compliance measure if designed more carefully.