Inspection fee pits Cloverdale landlords against town council
CLOVERDALE -- Further distrust is continuing to strain the relationship between the Cloverdale Town Council and residents who rent housing in Cloverdale. This controversy has surrounded a proposed fee for the inspection of rental properties within the town.
During a special meeting convened by the council Tuesday evening, one prominent landlord opined that this fee would drive out investors looking to settle in Putnam County’s second-largest community. Another cast the proposal as an example of unbridled “socialism,” a case of Big Brother exercising undue overreach.
The conversation began with at-large member Greg Jay, who introduced the concept at the council’s regular June meeting, saying that he had met with landlords on Monday to discuss the fee, as well as the frequency and scope of these inspections. It was this latter element which highlighted the back-and-forth during the meeting.
Though Jay acknowledged at the outset that there were specific concerns that needed to be considered, he and the council were met by charges of the town government wanting to punish landlords in Cloverdale.
When the debate began on the issue of liabilities, one landlord suggested that the town could be liable if an inspector were to miss a danger which would cause harm, and not see that it is corrected.
“What if the town inspects a rental property, and six months in something goes wrong and someone is hurt?” he asked. “Who’s responsible?”
Town Attorney Daniel Hofmann provided that tort statutes give the town “qualified immunity,” and there would need to be proof of a willful negligence. In one criticism directed at Town Manager Wayne Galloway, another landlord present said that he could not be specifically certified to determine the safety of components such as electrical.
Board President Larry Fidler responded that Galloway has broad certifications to be qualified to handle these inspections. He also pointed out that businesses and new homes were inspected just as well, but acceded with one landlord that some older homes might be exempt.
Stardust Hills developer Don Gedert, who owns several rental properties in Cloverdale, opined that the town does not have any skin in ensuring the homes are safe in the first place. He cited anecdotal experience dealing with Section 8 and HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) requirements.
“The town doesn’t pay into making sure that these homes are up to standards beforehand,” Gedert claimed. “I have low-income homes that have already been thoroughly inspected by the government and are up to code.”
Gedert would later opine that the inspection fee would drive investors away from doing business in the town, as he believed that they would not want to “deal with” any potential costs.
Another landlord sitting next to Gedert then charged that both Cheryl and Wayne Galloway seemed to have a vendetta against the town’s landlords, even though he said that they pay more into property taxes than others.
“This is not a place the town needs to go,” a different landlord said. “This is going the way of socialism; it’s like Big Brother coming in dictate what we do.”
Hofmann added that instating this type of fee for inspections has been done in other municipalities. When it was provided that no other community in Putnam County has, he retorted that this didn’t mean it was not done at all. Hofmann also iterated multiple times that the council had not taken any action toward approving the fee.
“We’re looking at safety, and not looking at something like what the carpet is,” said Jay. “We’re trying to prevent people from getting into bad situations. We’re looking out for everyone in Cloverdale, including those in our community who are low-income.”
While the actual fee amount is still to be worked out, Fidler said he would want to see it set under $100. He concurred with Jay and Hofmann that the frequency of inspections would need more consideration, though one every three-to-five years, as well as one when new renters move in, has been suggested.
The council also revisited the ongoing issue of lowering the speed limit in the Stardust Hills community from 30 mph to 20 mph. The council provided that new speed limit signs posted at the entrances to the subdivision would cost $50, and that a traffic study could cost between $3,000-$5,000.
The study is required for the proposed 20 mph speed limit per the Indiana Code, but would not be required if it was lowered to 25 mph instead.
Gedert resumed his criticism of the change, professing that the subdivision is not a school-zone, and that Stardust Hills was being singled out by the town council. However, he added that he would still support the 25 mph speed limit.
Jay brought up familiar points that the area is not well-lit, and that its streets are narrow and curvy and without sidewalks. A member of the audience added that lowering the speed limit by five mph would not make a difference with safety or how it could be enforced.
In other business, the council introduced Ordinance 2019-4, which would allow the town to establish a specific fee schedule for penalties. Hofmann provided that the town had “redone” its ordinances last year, and found fees prescribed to various infractions and violations were broad and inconsistent. He added that the new schedule would streamline how law enforcement assigned reasonable fines, and provide a structure which would have to followed.
Gedert asked if he could see the schedule before it was approved by the council, implying that it was another example of government overreach. Hofmann responded that the town had the authority to enact the schedule, especially given the perceived broadness of guidelines currently in place. However, he said that any resident may request a copy of the schedule inside the town hall.
With no discussion or comments from the audience, the council also passed Ordinance 2019-2 amending Chapter 154.99 of the town’s code. The ordinance stipulates that the town can express the right to recover attorney fees and other related charges in legal proceedings it is involved in.
Council members Gary Bennington and Don Sublett were absent at Tuesday’s meeting. Clerk-Treasurer Cheryl Galloway was also not present, but Deputy Clerk-Treasurer Trina Baker stood in for her.
The next regular meeting of the Cloverdale Town Council is scheduled for Tuesday, July 9 at 7 p.m. in the Cloverdale Town Hall.