The city will need state approval to create a new tax system that would charge landlords more than owner-occupants.
Council President Gary McCarthy pushed for speed Tuesday, challenging city workers to put together a state home-rule legislation request in just two weeks.
In that time, he wants to present hard data to prove his supposition that rental buildings cost the city more than single-family homes. Owners living in a two-unit home would not be charged the higher rate.
The city is compiling a list of the addresses with the highest number of police and fire calls in the last six months, which will be cross-referenced with city tax data to show which buildings are rental properties.
A list of code violations will also be organized by property type, which city officials believe will show that rental properties generally have far more violations, and of a more severe nature.
“Our costs are driven by absentee landlords,” McCarthy said.
But if their taxes go up, they may pass the costs on to their tenants, Mayor Brian U. Stratton said.
He reminded McCarthy that a tenant begged him last week to leave the taxes equal so that her rent remained affordable.
McCarthy said he’d rather use the tax shift to force bad landlords out of the city.
“I want to be sympathetic [to last week’s tenant],” he said. “But the individual also indicated she lived in an apartment with code violations and an owner who did not live in the area and was hard to get ahold of.”
He wants those landlords to leave.
“These people should not be in the business,” he said.
He argued that absentee landlords are ruining commercial corridors and neighborhoods because they often do not maintain their property or carefully select responsible tenants.
“Retail has dropped because of these landlords,” he said. “The only way you’re going to build up these commercial corridors is to re-establish housing around them.”
And to that, he said, the city needs more homeowners and far fewer absentee landlords.
Stratton suggested that the plan might also encourage responsible landlords, because they would have to invest more money in their property through taxes. McCarthy agreed.
But Councilman Mark Blanchfield said the city could also create a public safety surcharge rather than shifting taxes.
He suggested charging for all calls after a certain number. The city can charge now, but only for false calls.
Charging for “real response” calls could target the biggest users of police and fire services, Blanchfield said. That solution would eliminate one complaint about McCarthy’s plan: that responsible landlords would have to pay just as much as absentee landlords.
If the city gets permission to create a new tax system, it would not go into effect until 2011. McCarthy has not yet said what percentage of taxes should be shifted from owner-occupants to landlords.
First, he said, he needs to gather the data to convince the Legislature to approve his request. After getting approval, he could hammer out the details.
“We would have all year to work on the [tax] rate,” he said.