Jumping to conclusions

After what seems like years of discussion, the City of Norwich Common Council has finally passed an amendment to the city code that calls for the addition of a rental registry.

After last week’s public hearing on the topic, and several others before that, the council passed the ordinance, and I was under the impression that perhaps the topic would die down, at least for a while. I was wrong.

At last night’s meeting, several of the city’s landlords and members of the city council butted heads again about wording in three sections of the ordinance. As an outside, and I hope neutral, onlooker, I think I can understand both sides of the argument. The landlords seem to be afraid their civil liberties will be stomped on, as over eager and uncertified inspectors traipse into their properties searching for problems, at the request of angry tenants. The council is afraid that by changing certain phrases, their ability to enforce the ordinance will be limited, and they will have to get a court order every time they are asked to do an inspection.

There seems to be little room for compromise with stakes so high, and if neither party gives, this same argument could be going on for years to come.

The Landlord’s Association has said if the council is not willing to consider the changes, then they will take the next steps. Although they did not expressly say so, since they are calling the ordinance unconstitutional, one can only assume they plan to take legal action if the city does not comply with their demands.

In my opinion, a seemingly simple ordinance has gotten way out of hand. Although I can see the validity in some of the landlord’s concerns, I think they are jumping or even leaping to conclusions in some areas. A section of the ordinance gives the code enforcement officer the right to ask for additional information, above and beyond what is listed in the ordinance. The city says it was written with the idea of e-mail or before-and-after photos of an apartment in question. Some of the landlords seem to think this could require them to give out their bank account and Social Security numbers. I think this is about as likely as our code enforcement officer turning into the bogeyman and harassing landlords as they sleep, and every bit as reasonable, but they have their minds made up.

The fact of the matter is, laws are in place to protect people, and if a law is being enforced in a way that infringes upon your civil liberties, there are ways to deal with it. But jumping to the conclusion that someone is going to become corrupt and enforce an ordinance in an unethical way may be a bit of a stretch.

There are some compromises that could be reached if each side is willing to give just a little. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I think we have to at least give it a little time to decide if it is broken or not.

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