Hanover to launch inspection program for rental housing

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-25-2023 8:36 PM

HANOVER — With rental homes making up one-third of the town’s housing stock, Hanover is launching a rental housing inspection program to ensure that tenants are living in safe, sanitary and code-compliant homes.

Planning and Zoning Director Rob Houseman said the town is about “three or four weeks” from launching an online portal where landlords can register their rental properties for a mandatory inspection. By late October, the town expects to notify rental property owners of the start of the program and hire a housing inspector, who will be responsible for scheduling and conducting inspections of all rental units in town.

Town voters, by a voice vote, approved the ordinance authorizing the program at Town Meeting in March. The ordinance requires rental housing units to be inspected once every three years for compliance with health and safety code for residential properties.

“The goal is to ensure that every resident is living in safe, code-compliant housing,” Houseman said.

Hanover has a wide variety of rental properties, Houseman said. The offerings range from year-round rentals to seasonal or temporary arrangements, such as when a homeowner is on an extended trip. The rental properties include single-family homes, apartments, room rentals in an owner-occupied home and accessory dwelling units, such as a basement apartment.

About 10% of Dartmouth College’s undergraduate students live off-campus, according to the college’s website — which equates to hundreds of students per year. This does not include graduate and doctoral students, most of whom live off-campus.

Town Manager Alex Torpey said he has learned about some unsafe housing conditions in town rental properties from Dartmouth students living off-campus.

Some issues cited by students included fire hazards, such as windows that were painted shut or a lack of smoke detectors, or health concerns like mold.

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Several students indicated that they felt they had little if any recourse to address the living conditions, Torpey said.

“Everyone benefits when buildings are safer,” Torpey said about the importance of the ordinance.

Each rental unit must pass an inspection to receive a Certificate of Compliance, a required document before the unit may be rented. Property owners will have 30 days after receiving a town notice to apply for an inspection of their rental units.

The inspection will ensure that each dwelling unit has working doors and windows, adequate lighting, heating and plumbing, operational smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and sanitary living conditions, as well as other criteria.

Houseman said the inspection is looking specifically at issues related to owner maintenance, not occupant behavior. For example, an owner may receive a violation notice if the kitchen sink does not drain properly but not because the tenants piled dirty dishes in the sink.

Owners who receive a violation notice will be informed what issues to correct and a date for reinspection.

For minor violations such as a broken doorknob or a loose handrail, the landlord will receive a notice to complete the repair in 48 hours or five business days, Houseman said.

According to the ordinance, the town may issue an emergency order to shut down the property if the inspection department finds that the conditions in the unit “are unreasonably dangerous or injurious to the health or the safety of the occupants.” These conditions could include “a lack of adequate ventilation, light or sanitary facilities,” “dilapidation, disrepair or dangerous structural defects,” “uncleanliness,” “overcrowding” or “inadequate ingress or egress.”

Houseman explained that the town might order an emergency shutdown if there is a “significant life-safety threat” to the occupants, such as a broken boiler during the winter.

Rental properties with a history of noncompliance notices may become subject to annual town inspections, Houseman said. The property would need to pass three inspections in a row to return to a three-year inspection cycle.

“Our goal is always compliance,” Houseman said. “A fine doesn’t solve the situation.”

However, the ordinance allows the town to fine violators of the ordinance’s provisions — including the requirement for rental properties to have a Certificate of Compliance — up to $1,000 per day.

The town is advertising the rental housing inspector as a full-time position with an annual salary range between $51,000 and $78,000. The position will be paid for by rental property owners through program fees, including an application fee of $50 per unit, an inspection fee of $250 per unit and a reinspection fee of $75 per unit.

Houseman said the registration of rental properties is about six weeks behind schedule because the registration software is still not ready to launch.

The town plans to prioritize the inspections of “highest-risk properties” first, such wood-framed buildings that do not have sprinkler systems, according to Houseman, who added that state statute exempts single-family or two-family rental homes from having sprinklers.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.