PROVIDENCE — Citing the need to keep tenants safe and protect aging housing stock, Providence City Council President Rachel Miller is proposing a new law to require landlords to register their rental properties with City Hall.
The proposed ordinance, introduced at Thursday night’s City Council meeting, would require landlords to register their name or business name, address and contact information with the city, alongside a list of the units they own and how many tenants are living in them.
The registry would primarily be used to create a proactive inspection schedule, according to Miller, so city inspectors aren’t just reacting to complaints from tenants. The ordinance calls for inspectors to visit every rental unit once every four years. There are tens of thousands of rental units in the city.
“There has not been a single winter that I have been a council person where someone doesn’t call me up and tells me it is raining in their apartment, it is snowing in their apartment, they do not have heat,” said Miller, a Democrat, in an interview with the Globe.
In addition to proactive inspections, the law would require owners of rental properties built before 1978 to provide a lead-safe certificate.
Annual registration fees would range from $30 for an owner-occupied triple-decker to $100 for a short-term rental such as an AirBnB. (Both Providence and the state of Rhode Island already require short-term rentals to register.) Failure to comply would result in fines.
If approved, the registry would start in 2024 and would become publicly available online in 2025.
Miller emphasized that the legislation is in its beginning stages. The proposal was referred to the Committee on Ordinances Thursday night, and the public will get a chance to weigh in.
The proposal will undoubtedly get pushback from some landlords. Keith Fernandes, the president emeritus of the Providence Apartment Association, said he has privacy concerns with the level of information the city is asking landlords to provide.
“Rents continue to rise in Providence and the City Council continues to advocate for policies that help do so by trying to reinvent the wheel,” Fernandes said in an email.
Fernandes pointed out that a similar rental registry was passed on the state level this year, as part of a new lead safety effort.
Miller said the city would work with the state to see if data can be shared, rather than requiring landlords to register twice. The statewide registry has not yet launched.
“Likewise, the inspection program has existed for decades,” Fernandes said. “It’s called code enforcement. They usually respond in 24-48 hours. Why create a bureaucratic nightmare of a bill that even the city council is acknowledging that they have scarce resources for?”
Fernandes said he was also concerned that the rental registry could be a stepping stone toward other regulations on landlords. Miller is a supporter of regulating rent prices, something landlords vehemently oppose.
Mayor Brett Smiley, also a Democrat, has sided with landlords in their opposition to rent control. He has previously said that regulating rent increases could harm smaller property owners and disincentivize landlords from maintaining their units.
Asked for the mayor’s thoughts on a rental registry, spokesperson Patricia Socarras said Smiley’s administration is “still reviewing the implications of this ordinance.”
Miller told the Globe she is still planning to propose rent stabilization, though she didn’t have a timeline for when legislation could be introduced.
“Absolutely, this is the beginning of other proposals relative to housing,” Miller said. “This City Council is very focused on housing, and very focused on affordability and thinking about the ways that’s impacting the city right now.”