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Watertown's latest effort to fix blight: mandatory rental inspections

Julia Botero

The Watertown City Council is considering a new law that would require landlords to register their rental properties with the city. Homes would then be subject to inspection every three years. Councilman Steve Jennings says the measure will help improve the city’s housing, but landlords say the measure goes too far.

At their weekly meeting, the Watertown City Council listened for almost two hours as one landlord after the other voiced concern over the proposal. Pat Henry is a renter and former landlord. He said while he understands the motivation behind the measure, he sees it as an overreach by city government.

“This is one more interference that the government can have on your private life, on your private property, in your apartment, in your home," said Henry.

Henry said he hadn’t yet read the full proposal but still questions whether it’s necessary. He said the city already has a code enforcement department that ensures houses around the city are safe.

“I don’t think we need a new law to do that. I think our current laws take that into effect.”

Code Enforcement isn’t allowed to enter homes unless they get a complaint.  Jennings says plumbing and electrical problems in homes can only be detected from the inside.  And he says if the city had contact information for the owner of each rental home,  the city could address problems more quickly.

“It’s a way to keep communication open and address problems before they get out of control,” Jennings said.

Jennings said this is part of an overall plan to make Watertown a nicer place to live by protecting renters and making landlords more accountable. Other cities across the country have adopted similar policies for rental housing. Syracuse is debating a similar measure right now. The Watertown City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal September 19.