Investment properties are numerous in most communities. Whitehall fluctuates between 56 and 60 percent in rentals as opposed to owner-occupied households, according to City Auditor Kim Maggard.
A portion of those properties are owned by absentee landlords, making it difficult to contact them when there is a code enforcement issue. But help has arrived thanks to the passage of House Bill 294.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2007, all owners of residential rental properties were required to register with their county auditor.
According to Franklin County Auditor Joe Testa, getting every rental property registered will provide a contact for local code enforcement officers.
"It will help facilitate keeping properties in compliance and cleaned up," said Testa.
It does not matter if a landlord owns one rental or hundreds, they all must be registered.
If homeowners also have another home, such as a condominium or another house, that they use only once in awhile, but is not being rented out or available for rent, they do not have to register.
Testa’s office sent notices to rental owners, based on tax bills, in December. About 12,000 parcels, equaling 87,000 units, have been registered.
There will be penalties, in the form of special assessments, imposed after 60 days of notification if the properties are not registered.
However, realizing this is new mandate, a second notice will be sent in early March with all pertinent information. Assessments will be placed on the properties in May, 60 days after the March notice.
Failure to comply will mean each property will receive a $50 penalty after the first notice, $100 after the second notice, and $150 after the third notice.
There will be no notices after the third letter, which will mean $150 on each tax bill, thereafter. Also, in accordance with the bill, all information is considered public record.
Registrations can be made online at www.franklincountyaudior.com. For larger entities, with hundreds of units to register, there is a spread sheet.
If there is no online access, hard copies can be obtained through the auditor’s office, or by calling 462-4663.
Once registration is received, it is uploaded the same day, and will appear on the auditor’s web site the next day.
Whitehall Service Director Ray Ogden said that the new bill will help locate absentee landlords, not only concerning getting things fixed, but also tracking down owners if they do not comply.
Sometimes there is only a phone number, and a landlord cannot be brought into court on just a phone number, Ogden noted. The contact information will also assure that the wrong person does not get cited.
Ogden and Testa both agreed that tenants will also benefit from this new law. If the only contact information a tenant has for an absentee landlord is a post office box for rent payments and a phone number, they will now be able to track down a responsible party when problems arise that need the owner’s attention.
To see if a landlord has registered a property, log on to the auditor’s web site, and click the Property Maps (GIS) link, which will take you to another link, Residential Rental Inquiry. Enter the property’s address at the bottom of the form. It will then display all the registration information, or tell you that it is not on file.
Three area realtors, Richard Winnestaffer, Rodney Sparks and Art Russo, have offered rentals for many years in Whitehall. As of Feb. 19, Sparks had complied with the registration requirement, but Russo and Winnestaffer had not, according to the Franklin County auditor’s web site.
Winnestaffer owns 254 properties around the county, with 62 in Whitehall, and only six have been registered, which appear to be in partnership with other owners.
Whitehall Council President Brent Howard is the finance and operations Director of Wallace F. Ackley Company, which manages apartment complexes in several Columbus neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs.
The company’s properties did not appear as registered on the auditor’s web site as of Feb. 15.
When contacted that weekend, Howard explained that the company had registered all or most rentals in previous weeks.
However, Testa confirmed that 272 parcel registrations were not received until Feb. 19 from Howard’s company, and will appear on the web site Feb. 20.
In the tax section of Whitehall’s codified ordinances, it is specified that each owner, or designated agent of one or more units of real property located within the municipality that are rented or available for rent, must submit the names of tenants on Jan. 20 and July 20 each year.
Maggard offered that landlords have been very good about complying. She noted that it used to be on an annual basis, and her office would have to send reminders, but they seem to remember better knowing they have to submit the information every six months.
It has served as a good tool for her office to be able to collect city income taxes from Whitehall residents who are not home owners.
One more issue that Testa said he is having analyzed is land contract sales. He said that no deed is obtained until the contract is satisfied. The auditor thinks that it seems logical that those involved in land contracts will have to be registered since it is a rent-to-own agreement. But he is seeking a legal opinion on that.