Rental Inspection Plan Not Ready

A proposal to establish a rental housing inspection program in Wheeling clearly is not ready for prime time in the form of a vote by City Council. The only sketchy details of it revealed thus far need fleshed out. Obvious flaws need to be addressed.

Proposed just a few weeks ago, the inspection plan has been exceedingly controversial — and with good reason.

Proponents say it is needed to ensure rental housing is free of safety and health hazards. Opponents argue it will force rents up and reduce the number and affordability of rental units.

“We’re going to run out the poor,” commented landlord Alex Coogan during a public hearing this week.

“If you’re a good landlord, what are you worried about?” reacted Susan Hagan, who said an inspection program is needed. “Why do low-income people deserve subpar housing?”

Therein lies one reason for controversy. Would the city restrict requirements solely to those needed to safeguard health and safety? Among the few details released thus far is that flaking paint could be a violation. One wonders how many homes in Wheeling, including some most would consider high-quality, do not have flaking paint present somewhere.

Another concern is whether some tenants, upset with landlords for one reason or another, would file frivolous complaints.

Beyond any doubt, a rental inspection program would increase rents. It would cost landlords money, and they would react by charging tenants more. That is simple common sense.

City officials who want to establish an inspection program have the welfare of tenants at heart. For that, they are to be commended. But, especially for low-income renters, how much they pay for housing is a key to their welfare in general.

More work needs to be done on the proposal before it moves forward. As it stands, important questions have not been answered and valid concerns have not been addressed.