City continues enforcing R-1 licenses through commission
(April 14, 2017) Property owners and student worker sponsors were reminded of Ocean City’s housing rental regulations at the annual housing seminar last Thursday at the Carousel at 117th Street. This year, the event was held in conjunction with the J-1 Seasonal Workforce Employer Conference, organized by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
“The number one idea is to make sure we’re all living safe, and we’re all working together to make sure we have quality housing. Everyone has participation in that,” Planning and Zoning Director Bill Neville told the audience.
Neville attended the conference with Chief Building Inspector Kevin Brown and Sgt. Mark Paddack, leader of OCPD’s noise unit, to outline rules and laws for housing. Along with the Fire Marshal’s Office, these departments make up P.R.E.S.S., or the Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing committee.
This year, Ocean City will continue with the R-1 (single-family residential) rental application to address the problem of converting residential houses to seasonal housing.
At the order from City Council last year, P.R.E.S.S. made those units priorities and asked to inspect all 10,000 rental properties to make sure they’re code-compliant and that they have the rental license. At the moment, the city has completed 80 percent of the inspections.
“We do have a handful of properties that we asked for another inspection before its renewed,” Neville said. “These properties may have had an investigation last year or had a minor maintenance issue.”
The new R-1 license stipulates that the property cannot be occupied by more than four unrelated people. The property must also conform to the maximum occupancy, which is 40 square feet per person in a bedroom and a 10 square-foot credit for closet space. Landlords or property owners are encouraged to ask a building inspector calculate the property before the start of the season.
Those that are operating unlicensed rentals will be immediately fined $500, and face a $1,000 fine if they do not comply within 15 days. The fine is bumped to $1,000 per day if the owner does not get a license after 30 days.
Another aspect of the R-1 license is that applicants must also agree to a noise control permit, which limits the excess noise to daytime hours. If noise is audible from 50 feet away, police have the right to issue a $500 fine. A police database of the licenses has been created, so noise or other enforcement personnel can check to see if a property has the proper paperwork.
“Eighty percent of referrals to P.R.E.S.S. are from police, because when we’re on another call, we involve other departments on a safety issue,” Paddack said. “We’re the boots on the ground and we see it because we have 24-hour operations.”
Neville said that while his department is still working through inspections, it would be beneficial to have sponsors who care about their student workers’ welfare keep their eyes open.
“It’s easy for us to take one property at a time; it’s hard to implement an annual inspection for 10,000 properties,” he said. “At this point, we assume properties are doing the right thing and information is available.”
He also encouraged landlords and sponsors to provide the maximum occupancy regulations to the tenants and to neighbors so they would know what to look for before calling city staff. A map showing the location of R-1 rentals is available online, so neighbors can check if a house is registered.
Anne Marie Conestabile, local director of United Work & Travel Program, asked if the city is directly informing landlords what the occupancy rate is when they receive an R-1 license.
“Last year, I had to pull students because their [landlord] never told them how many students she could house,” Conestabile said. “We’re desperate for housing, but we don’t want to break the rules. If there’s a pamphlet that can be passed down with a strict requirement, it should be abided by.”
Neville said that since the system is automated now, the Planning Department lost that one-on-one interaction that ensures the property owner understands the code requirements. He and Brown were receptive to the idea of giving applicants a list of the most common code violations as a check list.
“We’re trying to get out as much information as we can, through the website and the seminar, but putting it into the licensing is valuable as well,” Brown said. “We’re trying to figure out what is too much information.”
Another issue Conestabile brought up is that several senior citizens, suffering from empty nest syndrome, are contacting J-1 visa student sponsors and want to open their homes to rent space.
“I educate them that yes, they can, but they need a license. They’re afraid of the license and pay extra money. But it is a trend — we advertise for housing and that’s who answers,” she said.
“We do have the responsibility of the code to ensure that rented room is safe and meets our standards,” Neville said. “It may involve an inspection and some changes to the building’s structure. We’re welcome to look at those on a case-by-case basis.”
“I’ll refer them,” Conestabile said.