by Cassie Mattia

Loveland, Ohio – There’s no doubt that the city of Loveland cares about its loving community of people and will stop at nothing to do what it takes to keep them safe. Unfortunately, residents, as well as some Loveland business owners, voiced that they weren’t necessarily confident in the City of Loveland’s proposed “Residential Occupancy Inspection Program” (ROIP) ordinance. The public hearing for those who wanted to speak about the proposal was held in Downtown Loveland at City Hall on March 26th.

According to the ROIP ordinance, “Each landlord within the City must annually register a written report of each tenant known to have occupied rental property. The report is to include changes in occupancy. Upon completion of registration, the Loveland/Symmes Fire Department will conduct an inspection of the dwelling(s) and/or property to ensure that the dwelling(s) are safe and habitable for occupancy. It is not the intent of the program to address short-term rentals.” Read the full Ordinance: ORDINANCE AUTHORIZING THE RATIFICATION OF A RENTAL OCCUPANCY INSPECTION PROGRAM

Loveland/Symmes Fire Chief, Otto Huber, spoke at the council meeting saying that the main goal behind the ROIP, is to keep the city of Loveland safe. He said, “Underprivileged people are calling us consistently. Residents have called about ceilings falling in, rat infestations and bathtubs falling through the floor. This is us trying to make the community safe not about getting further revenues or funds,” Huber continued, “We legally have the authority to inspect any building in the city, we are just trying to ensure that renters feel ensured that they have a safe home to live in. Landlords are not taking care of the properties. We have to be the voice of these underprivileged people to keep them safe. This ordinance is for the safety of those people.”

Huber also spoke about First Responders and the dangers they encounter on a daily basis. He said that this ordinance would in fact help. “They have to enter these homes in emergencies where they find there is no floor. We have an obligation to protect these people,” Huber said.

Make sense?

Let’s put the new ordinance into simpler terms. Loveland is growing at an alarmingly fast rate and because of that, the city is experiencing an increase in code and property maintenance violations. The increase in violations is occurring the most within single-family, non-owner occupied rental units. Loveland Symmes Police and Fire Department have been reporting numerous observations of unsafe living conditions during response call runs within rental units, according to the City of Loveland’s website. Loveland City Council says they recognize this issue as a growing concern and is presenting this new inspection ordinance so that they can assure safe living conditions for all residents. If you would like to read the full “Model Contingency Legislation,” for the ordinance, go HERE.

O’keefe proposes a Christmas in April approach

Resident Cati O’keefe said, “Do we want to show the goodwill of Loveland first – instead of using a punitive approach?”

She favors a carrot approach, not necessarily a stick approach. She suggested a community clean-up day that doesn’t shine a spotlight on anyone in particular, but where it looks like everybody is under the microscope. She said that City Council was the ears and eyes of the community and asked them if there wasn’t a way to get pools of money together to help the most fragile of us, those with disabilities, the elderly.

Residents Speak

The meeting brought in quite a few concerned residents wanting to discuss their issues with the ROIP. The City said the purpose of the public forum was to provide the public with ample time to respond to the new ordinance before it was put into place.

There were several property owners as well as landlords that spoke addressing the proposed ordinance. Ellen Mershon, the founder of Loveland Heights Association, said that she understood the ordinance and did not find it unreasonable to implement. Mershon said that there are 450 houses in the Heights and that approximately 30 percent are “rentals”. “Thank you, Tom Smith, for championing this ordinance. It is much needed for us. It is a benefit for both homeowners and renters,” Mershon said. She was directing her comment to Tom Smith, the Assistant City Manager. “For renters, it provides additional assurance that they will live in safe housing and everything is up to code. For homeowners, it provides additional assurance that we are somehow not deprived of the enjoyment or betterment of our properties. It’s Loveland’s turn to catch up on this important matter. This ordinance is not unreasonable. We need to follow suit of other great communities,” Mershon added.

Jean Kresge, an owner of an Airbnb, spoke about possible short-term renters fees. “If this ordinance comes along with having to pay a fee for each and every short term renter I have – I find that discouraging as my Airbnb will have up to 60 possible renters this year,” Kresge explained. “One of the things I’m not allowed to do is discriminate. It’s an Airbnb policy to not see any renter’s face. We also have to provide a lot of documentation to prove we are up to code to be an Airbnb property. There are government agencies that already provide this service for the city of Loveland.” Kresge questioned the legality of the ROIP. She also said that businesses like her’s are needed in the community because people are looking for short term rentals and we don’t have a hotel in Loveland. “If there is a fee, or if there is a regulation associated, or if I have to meet with someone every time a new renter comes in, that’s not cool.”

The question of whether a standard Airbnb fell into a “traditional” rental category seemed to be a popular topic at the meeting as another resident, Ryan Kulik, talked about the issue. “Airbnb’s would not be affected, correct? It’s my understanding that Airbnb’s are not traditional rental properties, “ Kulik said. “The City of Cincinnati was sued recently about a similar ordinance so we just need assurance that this is done fairly without any discrimination.”

City Solicitor Joe Braun responded to Kresge’s and Kulik’s concerns by saying that the City does not have specific regulations about Airbnb’s and does not have a separate ordinance yet. He said he would have to look further into the definition of an Airbnb.

Another concerned resident, Cati O’ Keefe, who is a landlord and property owner in Loveland attended the meeting to discuss the privacy of her renters. “I understand the health and visual side of the ordinance in regards to Loveland properties, but the city needs to take into consideration the privacy of renters who would now be entered into a public registration according to the new proposed ordinance,” O’Keefe explained. “She said that there are rules in place that already take care of the properties, however, they are not being enforced. “I hope this ordinance goes in tandem where everyone goes out and cleans up their property. I don’t think we should target just renters or just property owners with this ordinance. We need time to let tenants know by adding it into their leases about the registration of their name and phone numbers.” O’Keefe said. She also asked whether or not the fire department will be recording registrations. “I need to know that my tenants’ names and addresses are safe. Just last month there was a national story about a firefighter who used these same registrations as his own personal date book? I need to know that these names and numbers of my tenants are private. This is 4th amendment stuff and we have to be super careful with what we do with this ordinance.”

O’Keefe said that the problem of blighted properties is about fifty-fifty; owner-occupied homes and rental properties and she supports the City going after both equally to clean up the appearance of the community. She said, “I love the idea of cleaning up Loveland” however believes there are ordinances and regulations already in place that are not being enforced.

Councilwoman Angie Settell said that there had been some frustration among the people of Loveland because they felt they hadn’t seen the information to make a proper decision about the ordinance. She also said the minutes of the Law and Ordinance Committee, who discussed the ROIP and voted to recommend it, had not yet been made public. She suggested it is a violation of Ohio’s open meeting laws to not promptly prepare minutes and make them public. Settell said, “So, I don’t blame people for being frustrated about what the program is all about.”

Although the Residential Occupancy Inspection Program ordinance is being seriously looked at by the City, it is still not set in stone if or when the ordinance will be put into place. I highly recommend that anyone that owns or rents a property in Loveland get informed on this ordinance. As a city, we cannot make an educated decision that’s best for everyone in Loveland unless we organize all the facts and are sure that the ordinance benefits every property owner and renter in a positive way. If you would like to learn more about the Residential Occupancy Inspection Program ordinance or would like to attend a city council meeting visit lovelandoh.gov or stay tuned to Loveland Magazine for updates.

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