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City committee studies Watertown apartment inspections

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WATERTOWN — City Councilman Stephen A. Jennings has held his first meeting on a proposed apartment-inspection program that would be run by the city’s code enforcement office.

Last week, Mr. Jennings met with city staff and others to talk about his idea to establish a rental inspection program. It would address the condition of rental properties and ensure that they are safe and clean and comply with state building codes.

He envisions the program coinciding with helping local landlords obtain Community Development Block Grant program funding to fix up their rental units. He said he hopes to get landlords on board, even though they have opposed past efforts.

“We want to encourage landlords to be positive,” he said.

City staff has told Mr. Jennings that the city’s $1,415,200 CDBG money cannot be used for rental inspection programs.

At the first meeting, he was joined by Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr., City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk, City Planner Andrew T. Nichols, real estate investor Brian H. Murray and two representatives from Neighbors of Watertown Inc., Gary C. Beasley and Reginald J. Schweitzer Jr.

The group plans to meet again June 26.

Mr. Jennings contended that an inspection program is needed to improve deteriorating neighborhoods. He said 60 percent of Watertown’s 9,400 residential properties are rental units.

Inspections happen now if a tenant or someone else calls the city to complain about a violation. The calls primarily involve trash in yards, uncut lawns or tenant complaints about specific code problems.

Under such programs, code enforcement officers or fire department personnel are required to check rental units for code violations to ensure tenants are living in safe and healthy environments. Every apartment would be inspected for a laundry list of items, including broken windows and doors, pest infestations, safe egress from the building and working plumbing, electrical and heating systems.

Depending on the program, landlords may be charged fees for initial inspections or for subsequent inspections when they fail to correct violations. Many municipalities use the inspection fees to pay for the program.

During last fall’s council campaign, residents told Mr. Jennings that the city should require all of the apartments in the city of Watertown to undergo inspection by the Code Enforcement Office.

He recently brought up the program while the city was discussing and planning next year’s CDBG program.

In 2001, the city looked at implementing a rental inspection program, but landlords overwhelmingly opposed the proposal and it never went any further.

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