NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — Landlords in New Britain sued the city on Tuesday over a fee they argue is excessive but city officials say is intended to fight blight.
A group of landlords sued in New Britain Superior Court to block imposition of the $150-per-unit annual fee. The charge would total in the thousands of dollars for a landlord with hundreds of properties.
Daniel Silver, a lawyer representing landlords, said the fee is unnecessary because the city already has numerous regulations and laws on the books such as housing codes, nuisance abatement standards, anti-blight laws and other rules.
Phil Sherwood, a spokesman for Mayor Tim O'Brien, said the landlords fighting the fee are the same ones who fought the city’s past anti-blight efforts.
‘‘We’re not in the least bit surprised that they’re fighting the city’s latest effort to fight blight,’’ Sherwood said. ‘‘What they’re really opposed to is being told they can’t continue driving properties in the ground. Most of them could care less about the quality of life in the neighborhoods. They just want to make sure the rent check is theirs.’’
The fee is part of a new ordinance requiring for-profit landlords who don’t live in their rental properties to acquire a ‘‘residential rental property business license’’ and renew it each year. Sherwood said the ordinance’s goal is to reduce blight and create an incentive for landlords to clean up their properties, with the threat of fines and license revocations.
Sherwood said O'Brien has offered to lower the fee to $50. He said 20 other towns across the country have similar licensing fees.
The Herald reported that landlords also are angry over fees on properties where police and firefighters are called repeatedly.
Alderman Michael Trueworthy told the newspaper that the city is cracking down on blight and property owners he referred to as ‘‘slumlords.’’
‘‘The slumlords are angry,’’ he told the newspaper. ‘‘We are finally cracking down on blight. That is what it boils down to.’’
Silver said fees must reflect the cost of administering a program or law, which he said the $150 fee fails to do. Precedent allows the city to charge a nominal fee to guarantee health and safety, such as $150 for an apartment building, but not $150 for each apartment, he said.
‘‘This is to generate revenue,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s what this legislation is all about.’’