Council split on rental registration

Weigel raises concerns about impact on tenants’ privacy

WEIRTON — Weirton Council is moving forward with a new iteration of a rental registration program, narrowly approving the first reading of ordinances establishing such a program as well as fee structures associated with it, during Monday’s meeting.

Council voted 4-3 in favor of the first reading, repealing its existing Ordinance 1569, which established Article 1790 of the city’s code for a registration and inspection or rental housing units regulation, to establish a new rental registration program.

Voting in favor of the ordinance were Councilmen Tim Connell, George Ash, Douglas Jackson and Enzo Fracasso. Voting against it were Councilmen Mike Adams, Fred Marsh and Terry Weigel. The ordinance was sponsored by Ash, Jackson and Fracasso.

Mark Miller, the city’s planning and development director, noted, if the ordinance is approved, there would be a six-month voluntary registration period, beginning July 1.

“Anybody who would volunteer (to register), there would be no fee,” Miller said.

After Jan. 1, there would be a $20 fee assessed as part of the rental registration, which would be good for three years, Miller said.

The new proposed legislation is patterned after one already in effect in Fairmont, which Miller reported has not been amended or stricken because of any legal challenges.

“Fairmont has had this in place since (1995),” Miller said.

Weigel expressed concern about legal challenges, and constitutional rights of residents, saying inspections had the potential to expose the private lives of renters in the city.

“You’re basically taking away the tenants’ right to privacy,” Weigel said, noting the city is not able to take similar action if a person owns the residential property.

Three local rental owners also addressed council prior to the vote.

John Barone cited privacy rights and constitutional law, also stating Wheeling does not have such an ordinance, despite comments from Weirton officials. Jerry Bischof and Tim Finch, meanwhile, both said they feel the ordinance, if implemented, would result in higher rental prices in the city.

Fracasso, though, said he had been contacted by a friend Monday and was told of efforts across the nation to enact similar legislation.

“It’s not just a Weirton thing,” Fracasso said.

Mayor Harold Miller raised issues he said he has seen as chairman of the city’s Building Enforcement Agency, which deals with property maintenance issues.

“It is eye-opening to see the conditions some of our citizens live in,” the mayor said, framing the ordinance as a safety issue and saying not all rental properties are properly identified. “If this helps in any way, I’m all for it.”

Connell told of a resident who approached him four years ago with concerns of mold and other issues.

“She approached the landlord and he did nothing about it,” Connell said, adding soon after he got involved, the woman was evicted.

In related business, council passed two other ordinances in which the city is establishing license fees of $15 for both residential and commercial rental operations. It would be a flat fee, paid by the rental owner no matter how many units are owned by the owner. These fees would be paid by the calendar year.

These fee ordinances passed their first reading by a 6-1 vote, with Weigel voting against both.

All three ordinances must pass a second reading in order to go into effect.

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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