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Manchester landlords wary of new housing report

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 01. 2016 9:48PM

MANCHESTER — A special commission set up to investigate substandard housing in Manchester is wrapping up its work and preparing its recommendations for the mayor and aldermen — recommendations that some landlords say amount to “public shaming.”

“The way the commission discussed it two weeks ago, and the way I understand it, they are going to invite people to come and stand before the mayor and board of aldermen and answer for the condition of their properties, which are supposedly below standard,” said Deb Valente, president of the New Hampshire Property Owners Association and a Manchester landlord.

“And if they don’t show up, they’re going to have the hearing without them and publicly shame them. That’s my understanding,” she said.

Ward 3 Alderman Patrick Long, a member of the Manchester Commission on Substandard Housing, said the group is close to submitting its recommendations to the mayor and aldermen after 12 months of research, but will not be calling for a tribunal as described by Valente.

At the Jan. 18 commission meeting, Long said he discussed the possibility of an oversight commission to deal with some of the conditions in apartment buildings, but was told the city does not have the authority to create such a board and require appearances.

“We would have to change state statute,” he said.

Instead, the group is honing in on other initiatives designed to enhance the city’s ability to locate landlords and get problems fixed.

The first recommendation is for the Code Enforcement Division to compile a list of all multi-family buildings that do not have a current Certificate of Compliance from the city.

Any property that does not have a certificate will be visited by several city departments and each will be required to act on its area of responsibility, with a monthly report submitted to the mayor and aldermen.

The second recommendation would require each owner of a multi-family building to post in a common area a notice containing the contact information for the owner and his or her agent.

If the owner or his agent doesn’t live in New Hampshire and within 25 miles of the building, they’d have to post the contact information for a person who can be reached. When ownership of a building changes, a new posting would have to go up within 24 hours.

Failure to comply with these requirements, if approved by the mayor and aldermen, could be considered a violation by the Planning Department, which could issue warnings or citations.

“We’re just looking to make sure that things are going smoothly,” said commission chair Michael Tessier, a retired Manchester police captain. “We’d love to see some recommendations over lead paint, but that’s a very complex issue unto itself. Right now the major focus is to make it more efficient for existing statutes to be enforced by our city departments.”

The commission was appointed last year in response to a 2014 report on substandard housing in Manchester published by the Granite State Organizing Project, which identified specific landlords and their properties. At least two of those landlords showed up with their lawyers at the Jan. 18 meeting of the commission.

It’s scheduled to meet again at 10 a.m. on Feb. 8 in City Hall to finalize its recommendations in time for a March report to the aldermanic committee on Public Safety, Health & Traffic.

Valente says the 2014 report by Granite State Organizing Project was flawed, and that the entire commission is set up on a false premise.

“She claims there is no substandard housing in Manchester, and I told her time and time again, I respect that, but I do not agree,” said Long.

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