The state and some municipalities have targeted so-called “absentee landlords,” as they look for new sources of revenue to match their increases in spending.
Landlords in New Britain have filed a lawsuit against the city over two ordinances that they say could drive them out of business, besides also driving up rents – one that charges landlords for calls made to 911 by their tenants, and another that creates a landlord licensing system and levies a fee per unit owned.
Meanwhile, as the business environment for landlords worsens, the need for rental properties increases. Changing demographics and a rising generation that is labeled “Generation Rent,” has put pressures on cities and towns to come up with more rental options.
There are some towns that are looking to property owners for an injection of private capital into blighted areas and for help to solve urban decline, said Robert DeCosmo, president of Connecticut Property Owners Alliance.
Others are taking a different route – attacking all landlords for “blight” and threatening to hold them personally liable for damage done to their properties.
A bill recently introduced in the state legislature would allow municipalities to place liens on the personal property of landlords for violating municipal blight ordinances.
Landlords are opposed to the bill, said DeCosmo. Not only does the bill not define blight, but it also places liability solely on landlords, instead of on those causing the damage.
“Property owners don’t dump trash, smash windows and paint graffiti on their own properties,” he said.
DeCosmo said there are some bad landlords, and he said his organization has no interest in defending them. But the vast majority of landlords are trying to do the right thing, he said.
DeCosmo said he is concerned the bill could cause private funding for housing projects in some municipalities to dry up.
Property owners testified at a public hearing recently against two other bills proposed by state lawmakers.
Landlords in New Britain have filed a lawsuit against the city over two ordinances targeting them – one that increases fines for blight and creates a landlord license, and another that fines property owners when their tenants “excessively” call 911 or other emergency numbers.
The blight ordinance requires landlords to be licensed with the city, requires them to pay a fee for each unit they own, and increases fines for any un-repaired damage to their properties.
The new “Hot Spot” ordinance forces property owners to pay for the costs when the police or fire department responds to a “non-emergency” call from one of their tenants.
If a property is deemed as having had “excessive” responses – which in some cases is just a second non-emergency response – the property is subject to inspection and further fines and a $35 fee per apartment.
DeCosmo said property owners are worried the new fines will stop residents from contacting emergency services in the case of a real emergency.
“We’re aware of the city’s fiscal issues, but no human life should be put at risk because of the cost of emergency services,” he said.
In response to the growing discontent with the new ordinances, Mayor Tim O’Brien announced on Christmas Eve that he was spending $100,000 of city money to hire Global Strategy Group, the communications firm where Gov. Dannel Malloy’s former senior advisor Roy Ochiogrosso is managing director, to help with a campaign against “absentee landlords.”
Global Strategy Group specializes in Democratic political strategy and polling. When O’Brien hired the firm, he didn’t ask the city council if he could spend the money, instead he used the city’s legal fund to do it, which he controls.
Calls to the mayor’s office for comment were not returned.