Alderman Helding is floating an idea to require an occupancy permit each time a new tenant moves into a rental unit in the city of Racine. I think this is a bad idea.
Like many proposals for more government, Alderman Heldings idea is well intentioned I am sure. But good intentions are insufficient. Good results are what is needed. So let us predict the likely consequences of Heldings proposal.
First, let us acknowledge that the quality of some rental units are obviously subpar. As such, interior inspections will likely find numerous code violations from chipped paint, leaky roofs, faulty wiring, etc... in some of these units. Correcting these deficiences will cost money. In many cases, they will cost alot of money, depending on the condition of the unit and the degree of enforcement sought by the city. And it would be wonderful if all of our housing was terrific inside and out. But I refuse to live in a fantasy world.
In the real world, and in some parts of our city, it is unlikely that a substantial investment in property will pay off for the landlord. If a landlord is required to spend $30,000 upgrading a unit, but the rents max out at $400 per month, what do you think will happen? If owning property in certain parts of our city becomes a losing venture, you can be sure that these landords will simply walk away from these properties. This policy proposal will result in a decline in the quality of our housing.
There are more problems with this proposal. The JT article on the subject notes that there are between 12,000 and 14,000 rental units in the city with a 30 to 40% turnover each year. Inspecting and reinspecting these units will require several more city employees. City employees salaries, health insurance and lifetime pension obligations are already a serious threat to our area. Adding more employees would compound our fiscal problems.
And finally, this proposal would just be another nuisance for honest business people. I know it is fashionable to insult landlords. Indeed the term landlord is hardly used any more, replaced more often that not with the derogatory "slumlord" moniker. Landlords are providing a service to our community. In general and at least, they are responsible for the maintanance of buildings that in many cases would otherwise be totally abandoned.
Harrassing landlords may be a wise political strategy for Alderman Helding and others, but it will ultimately harm the quality of housing in Racine.