Portsmouth City Council will bring forth legislation from the city manager’s agenda that will result in the transfer of funds from the city’s rental licensing fee to the General Fund. At the same time, they are in the process of re-implementing the fee, with some very obvious changes.
“The program is going to be more of a voluntary basis,” City Solicitor John Haas said. “Either the tenant or the property owner will have to consent to an inspection. And if they don’t, we can’t inspect the property unless we get a warrant.”
The city of Portsmouth conducted a rental licensing program through the City Health Department and in June 2012 Fund 271 was created. The fees collected were deposited in that fund and the expenses associated with operating the program were expended in Fund 271.
A lawsuit was brought forward questioning the constitutionality of the program as it was operated. Upon the receipt of the lawsuit the city of Portsmouth stopped the program and inspections have not been conducted since June 2014. Haas has advised of new reformed methods of conducting the program in which it does not violate anyone’s constitutionally protected rights.
For 2017 the program will be re-implemented and operated out of the Engineering Department. The revenues received through the rental licensing program will be funded out of the General Fund beginning in 2017,
One of the plaintiffs in the court case was rental property owner Ron Baker, who remembers the first encounter and says he is prepared to go through the process again if necessary. He said the term “voluntary” came up during the original case.
“They tried to do that back when we were going through that process,” Baker said. “The problem is, when you hear the word voluntary, you think that’s voluntary, but here’s what he, (City Health Commissioner) Chris Smith, said, and they’ve got him on record when we did the deposition – I asked him at that deposition – ‘When you say it’s voluntary, if I decide I don’t want to have these inspections, that’s the end of it?’ he (Smith) said, ‘no, we’ll get a court order.’”
Haas said getting a warrant would be much more involved.
“To get a warrant we’d have to have some information that there’s safety hazards inside, and we’d go that route,” Haas said.
Baker was adamant about being ready for more legal action if necessary.
“Let them come at it again,” Baker said. “We’ll just go right around with them again.”
City Manager Derek K. Allen said the city currently has $12,389.70 in Fund 271 and it needs to transfer that to the General Fund.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.