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City Council increases penalty for landlords who violate housing laws

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Athens City Building

City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve an ordinance that stiffens the penalties for landlords in Athens who repeatedly violate housing laws.

The amendment was passed amid a lengthy controversy about rental housing conditions in the city between members of City Council, incumbent Mayor Steve Patterson and independent candidates running for public office.

The amendment maintains the existing $100 fine per violation per day of noncompliance with housing laws. It will also increase the penalty on another offense within two years of a previous offense to a fourth degree misdemeanor ($250 fine and potentially 30 days in jail); a subsequent offense could become a third degree misdemeanor, doubling the penalties.

Mayoral candidate Damon Krane, who attended the Monday meeting, spoke out against the legislation when it was proposed during a previous City Council meeting. He claimed the body was attempting to steal his housing reform campaign platform.

Krane said he does not believe the legislation does enough to counteract the lack of housing law enforcement in Athens.

“If this was a first step, it’s good, but, if it’s only a step, it’s meaningless,” he said in a provided comment. “Violations will only be corrected if we’ve got enough rental housing inspectors to conduct thorough inspections.”

In the comment, Krane also expressed concern at City Law Director Lisa Eliason’s practice of enforcing code violations. He also advocated for rent control.

There are nine employees who work for Athens Code Enforcement and Community Development, according to a previous report from The New Political. Only four employees, however, performed housing inspections in the past year, according to The Athens NEWS.

Despite being a landlord herself, Councilmember Sarah Grace said that did not influence her vote on the amendment. 

“Myself being a property owner (did not affect my vote) in that I support tougher penalties on landlords who fail to maintain safe conditions,” she said. “I was happy to support that.”

City Council took this issue up with the Ohio Ethics Board, which told Grace she could vote on the ordinance if it would not directly benefit her or her family members.

“The only effect that this could have would be if I was a terrible landlord,” she said. “I would be increasing the penalties for myself.”

The body also heard from Adam Boesinger, Student Senate’s off-campus commissioner, who spoke on Senate’s recent resolution that expressed concern about alleged wrongdoings of local towing companies.

Boesinger claimed that local towing companies charge more than the Athens’ maximum towing fee of $50, instead charging the state maximum of $130 dollars — which could be in violation of the Ohio Constitution. He then called for an audit of the towing companies.

“These problems represent a clear encroachment of Athens resident’s rights under state code, and we encourage the city to take firm action in addressing these issues,” Boesinger said.

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