Rental unit fee approved, but jeered

Isley says new levy will raise rent for the poor

Staff WriterJune 18, 2008 

— The City Council approved a new annual fee on rental properties Tuesday that was described as "excessive" and "an abomination" by dissenting council members.

Beginning in early January, residential property owners in Raleigh must pay $30 annually for their first registered unit and $10 for each additional unit registered in the same dwelling.

The money will be used to create a database of rental properties and to hire a four-person team to deal with landlords who run afoul of the city's PROP, or Probationary Rental Occupancy Permit, ordinance.

"It is an opportunity for any landlord to get timely information so they can take corrective action," said Councilman Russ Stephenson in explaining his support for the registration.

But council members on the losing end of the 5-3 vote said that, while they supported the PROP ordinance, they question the necessity and the fairness of the fees.

"How in the world do you charge all these fees when all you really need to know is where they are?" Councilman James West said.

Said Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin: "I think they're excessive."

The city estimates that about half of Raleigh's 154,000 residential units are rental properties, which means the new fees will generate more than $775,000 annually.

City Manager Russell Allen told the council that the fee structure is meant to recoup the recurring costs associated with creating a database of properties and enforcing the PROP ordinance. The PROP team would include a police officer, an employee from the city's Inspections Department and two support staffers.

A landlord enters the PROP program if he or she accumulates a certain number of housing code violations at a property. Each landlord in the program is required to get a permit, pay $500 a year for two years and attend rental management classes. Since the ordinance was adopted in 2005, 20 properties have received enough violations to qualify.

The council also approved two other changes to the PROP ordinance Tuesday. Police will now be able to issue $100 civil penalties for noise and nuisance violations instead of charging the tenant with a misdemeanor, and crimes such as prostitution, possession of stolen goods and disorderly conduct will now be considered violations of the ordinance.

Several landlords have said they will simply pass the new registration fee along to their tenants.

Mayor Charles Meeker said the council will re-evaluate the fee structure each year to see whether it needs to be changed.

Philip Isley, the third council member to oppose the fee, said the new fees would would end up being a tax on people who can least afford it.

"I just think it's an abomination," Isley said. "We don't need to be adding any burden onto any low-income housing."

That argument was disputed by Councilman Rodger Koopman, who said he had seen no data showing that the additional fees would lead to less affordable housing in the city.

"I'm somewhat perplexed about this linkage to affordable housing," Koopman said.

david.bracken@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4548

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