Proposed Columbus landlord registry faces opposition from property owners

COLUMBUS, Ind. -- Columbus may soon join the expanding list of Indiana cities requiring a landlord registry.

A new ordinance would require anyone who rents out a property to pay a fee and give the city up-to-date contact information.

Columbus City Councilor Elaine Wagner says since she campaigned for office in 2015, she’s been hearing from dispatchers, the fire department and residents that the city needs a better way to keep track of landlords.

When there’s a fire, crime or code violations, Wagner says the city can’t always reach property owners. Instead, they resort to sending at least a thousand certified letters every year.

“At seven to ten dollars a pop, we don’t always get information back, we don’t always get a response and so that’s a burden on the city,” said Wagner.

She and community development projects coordinator Robin Hilber say more people are moving in and out of Columbus and more people are renting. They say Columbus is now the second-most transient city in the state, behind Bloomington and ahead of West Lafayette.

About half of properties downtown used to be owner-occupied. That number is down tow 20 to 30 percent. Hilber says this law is just a way of keeping up with the changing needs.

“It’s additional paperwork and just hoops to jump through with no real benefit,” said landlord Susan Thayer Fye.

She says the local landlord association voiced its opposition to the ordinance during a working group to craft the legislation. She says they never saw proof of the problem city officials say they’re fixing.

And if there is a problem reaching property owners, she says the association can help with that and has offered that help before.

“We all know each other,” said Fye. “We all trade properties. We all buy and sell among each other, whether we live out of county, out of state or whatever.”

Based on conversations with the fire department, Wagner says property owners often need to reach someone quickly, and fire officials need to reach property owners after a fire to properly secure properties.

Fye says she can’t think of any fires in town within the past year where the city couldn’t find the property owner.

She says most would rather track down fellow landlords than add to their already hefty stack of government-mandated paperwork.

In a town that keeps needing more housing, she fears the registry will drive away potential investors.

Wagner maintains it will cut down on repeated calls and emails from neighbors fed up with broken-down houses. And she stresses that quicker contact will eventually help good landlords too.

“Right now people are concerned, but after the ordinance is passed and after it’s established, I think that people will see that it’s more helpful than it is harmful,” said Wagner.

If this ordinance passes, property owners will have 60 days before they’ll have to register their rentals. If they don't register, they'll face a $100 fine, which will escalate to $250 then $500.

The first reading will be at the January 16 council meeting.

Opposing landlords tell us they plan to show up in full force.