Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Sept. 5 newspaper on Page A1.
Two candidates for Athens city offices voiced concerns that steps to strengthen regulations on landlords may not go far enough, and noted they have been campaigning on a platform of similar action since earlier this year.
The two independent, socialist candidates — Damon Krane for mayor, mayoral candidate, and Ellie Hamrick for an at-large seat on Council — spoke on the issue at Council’s meeting Tuesday evening. They were responding to a proposed resolution that would allow the city to level charges against landlords who do not address code violations. Such penalties, as proposed, could lead to jail time.
The tougher rules are a good step, both candidates argued, but they said more needs to happen and expressed hope that any new law would be strictly enforced.
“At first glance, I think this ordinance sounds great,” Krane said. “After all, it’s part of what Ellie Hamrick and I have been campaigning on for the past six months ... Talking about slumlords doing jail time makes for dramatic headlines, the problem is that no matter how tough-sounding a piece of legislation is, it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not enforced.”
Both candidates are renters within the city. Krane has been vocal since the start of his campaign on his stance concerning the city Code Office, which he says is understaffed and functions as a “complaint-driven agency.”
Krane has used this issue to try and distinguish himself from Democratic incumbent mayoral candidate Steve Patterson. Hamrick has offered a similar point of view.
“Ask virtually any renter in Athens about their experience with landlords, and you are sure to hear horror stories,” Hamrick said. “Just this week I heard stories from tenants about chronically-flooded basements, broken glass, smells of stale urine, roofs caving in, exposed wires, leaking plumbing, extreme humidity, mold, unauthorized entry and broken fire alarms.”
The goal of the housing code ordinance is to hold landlords accountable — during the first reading of the ordinance two weeks ago, City Law Director Lisa Eliason noted that in the past it was common for out-of-town landlords to pay the city a fine remotely, instead of addressing the code violations. She said the change to the code will allow the city to build upon previous violations to the point that it becomes a jail-worthy offense.
Hamrick repeated an oft-mentioned point that no one currently serving on Council is a renter in town, and that several are landlords. She called it “not surprising” that Council members had not taken such action earlier, and called for the creation of a tenant union to “fight for lower rent and better conditions.” She called safe and livable housing a human right.
“Many people who work in Athens cannot afford to live here, and if we succeed in forcing landlords to clean up their properties, we’ll also need to make sure they don’t pass those costs on to tenants,” she said.