A move to force a citywide referendum with the objective of overturning a new rental housing ordinance passed by the Sanford City Council in July has failed.
Petitioners had until 4:30 p.m. Monday to turn in 717 signatures of registered voters to require the city to hold a referendum vote on the matter.
City Clerk Sue Cote on Tuesday morning said two petitioners — Mark Adler and Rebecca Lapierre — turned in 223 signatures.
Adler in a telephone interview Tuesday said a third signature-gatherer declined to submit petitions because he felt that even combined with others submitted, there still wouldn’t have been enough to make the total. Adler said there were several people collecting signatures but three spearheading the petition drive.
“I know we were close,” Adler said.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get the signatures we needed,” Lapierre said. She said all those gathering signatures have busy lives — she’s involved in real estate sales as well as being a landlord — and figures if they’d had more time, they could have gotten the required number.
“At this point, it is what it is and we made the effort,” Lapierre said.
Among its provisions, the ordinance mandates that multifamily dwellings be licensed by the city. Fees for licensing start at $100 for one rental unit and rise to $500 for an eight-unit building. The ordinance says rental units must undergo inspection. As well, portions of the ordinance address vacant buildings and abandoned properties. A “good neighbor” policy provides for a 50 percent credit eligible in the second year after properties are licensed and have passed inspection.
Cote said petitioners were required to submit the names of 717 of Sanford’s 14,331 registered voters — 5 percent as spelled out in the city charter — by the close of business on Sept. 11 to take the petition to referendum. Because of scheduling deadlines, the question would have gone to voters in June, rather than appear on the November ballot.
Some who were looking for repeal said the ordinance is an overreach by the city.
Adler, a member of the seven member committee who had sought repeal, said the new ordinance punishes law-abiding landlords.
“I like the end goal but I don’t like the method,” the city is using to weed out landlords who neglect their properties, Adler said in an August interview. “Sanford has unsafe housing, (but) I don’t think they went about it the right way. It’s governmental overreach.”
Adler said he had spoken to tenants who don’t like the idea of the city’s mandated inspection of their homes.
Proponents say the new ordinance means landlords who neglect the properties they rent would be required to make repairs, improving the city’s rental housing stock.
The landlords who own Sanford’s 900 multi-unit properties that contain 3,044 rental units pay 9 percent of the city’s property taxes, while single-family homeowners pay 62 percent, city leaders have pointed out.
Adler, a property manager, said he remains frustrated with the new ordinance but said he expects he and others will “live with it.”
He pointed out there are options like a new petition to change the ordinance, but that seems unlikely.
“l’m not sure anyone is looking to do that anytime soon,” he said.