Rental inspections are reasonable — and essential

Landlords have complained about the cost of Brattleboro’s proposal to ramp up the inspection schedule for rental properties. These inspections should be mandatory for the safety and well-being of tenants, many of whom are hoarding dangerously.

BRATTLEBORO — At the recent meeting where the Selectboard discussed the proposed changes to the rental housing inspection program, Sally Fegley raised a great point: “Good landlords are integral to the fabric of a healthy community.”

Good landlords, like those who run any good business, keep their properties in good condition without cost to the town. It is about having checks and balances for business. It should not cost the town when people do business.

Inspections have to be done for inns, motels, and other commercial lodgings, and these enterprises pay for these inspections as part of doing business.

Some landlords have gotten away with too much in many ways. The question is why inspections of the sort that have been proposed have not been done for the long-term rental properties where many senior citizens, low-income families, and working-class people live?

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As owner of a cleaning and painting service, I am in many of the rental properties around town. I get to see who is taking care of their properties and who are abusing their rights as landlords.

It can be challenging for a tenant to speak up about health and safety issues for fear of being evicted. Some landlords use this fear to their advantage and take their time to make needed repairs at the tenant's expense.

Rental properties are so lucrative that they are being bought up as soon as they go on the market, and landlords would not be in the rental business if they were not making money. They pay taxes at a lower rate on their rental buildings than homeowners pay on their residences. Homeowners should not have to pay more taxes to help rental-housing businesses.

Some landlords you think are taking good care of their buildings are not doing so. From time to time, I have had to call our town health officer, and I have found that health issues do not get taken care of unless they are taken to the state level. As is the case for most towns in Vermont, our town does not have properly trained health officers.

As a member of the state Rental Housing Advisory Board, I have found that many people who are inspecting the buildings are not well-trained in health inspections.

A health officer needs to be certified by the state health department. Giving overtime for firefighters to do health inspections when they are not properly trained in health issues is very questionable at this point; they will need better training and certification in health issues before they do health inspections. This proposal is being questioned within our advisory committee.

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Firefighters will have a huge responsibility of keeping buildings safe and in good operational condition for tenants for their health and safety by checking for mold, heating conditions, plumbing issues, and lead issues. They must not turn a blind eye or tiptoe around bad landlords and people with hoarding disorder (HD).

With the rise of substance abuse and the multitude of other mental-health issues, HD is becoming a major problem for landlords in the community.

Health officers need to have great training in this one subject, and they will need to take the time to address the problem and make sure people are safe in their environment and safe for the community.

Homes of hoarders need to be inspected on a regular basis, often three to four times a year, to verify their fire exits are operational, hallways clear, and parasitic activity is contained.

Cory Chalmers, the firefighter who inspired the A&E series Hoarders, is the owner of Hoarders.com. He lectures and advises many communities and firefighters across the nation and has advised me when working with difficult cases. Our firefighters could learn much from a lecture from him.

I have advised and given our health officer a direct line to Chalmers. We'll have to wait and see if he and our town will use his professional advice.

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A few months ago, I had to bring in the town health officer to a level-five hoarding situation. The health officer condemned the apartment and did a thorough inspection of the whole building, which had a lot of issues. The work has not been completed, which is another story.

In the apartment, windows were so old and rotten they just fell out and broke on the floor. In the building, the rain was coming through the ceilings in three apartments.

These are the type of rental buildings some people with hoarding disorder end up in. It is a tough and dangerous situation.

Landlords are not exempt from HD, either. It can strike anybody, especially people with substance abuse, whether of drugs that are prescribed or illegal. HD strikes the elderly. It does not matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, or landlord - hoarding disorder affects people of all socioeconomic levels.

Another landlord told the Selectboard how he is already paying taxes for inspections. I have worked in some of this person's rental buildings. Landlords, renters, and the town will benefit greatly from this mandatory inspection process. I do not say this lightly.

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I have found that responsible landlords usually do the right thing by their tenants and community. As Jacqueline Reis and Iishana Artra discussed in their observations, “the drop in cleanliness and safety in town is noted by many,” and I hear about it often.

We do have many good landlords, and they should be applauded for their great efforts of keeping their businesses clean, healthy, and safe for the tenants and community.

We have a great community here with great culture for a town of its size. People come here to visit and live because of the culture.

Landlords need to own their responsibility for inspection cost. All of them need to do their part by paying the cost of doing business.

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