Maintaining Compliance in Your Rental Property Registry (4 of 4)
When we are helping a new partner city identify data sets to integrate into the BuildingBlocks application, we’ll always ask if there’s a rental database we can access. If the answer is “yes,” it’s often followed by some qualifier: “compliance is low” or “we don’t trust the data” or “no one really manages it anymore.” The fact is that many registries were put in place without the proper processes or staffing to support their ongoing operations. And over time, as administrations turn over and priorities change, they become an afterthought, reliant on voluntary (i.e. poor) compliance.
But we’ve also seen cities that have recharged their rental oversight using some best practices and modern tools that allow for efficient and effective administration—without taking up a lot of staff time. At a high level, these are about:
- creating a database
- automating the renewal process
- identifying bad actors
- managing a tiered system (if one is in place)
More info on (1) and (2) in this post, then we’ll tackle (3) and (4) in our next post.
Create a database:
It goes without saying, but managing registrations/renewals using paper filings requires a lot of clerical work that adds to the administrative cost and complexity of running a registry. While some communities we work with do not have the systems in place to accept digital registrations/renewals, we always advise that any submission from a landlord is digitized upon receipt.
Excel spreadsheets can work, but the information must be organized in a way that allows data to be sorted and stored in a logical way. Using color coding to indicate the status of a property or allowing free-form text entry instead of validated drop-down options are two common mistakes that we run into consistently. Our Data Engineering team does a lot of work with city staff to help restructure these spreadsheets so that data management is less of a burden and the data is more usable within BuildingBlocks. There are low-cost and no-cost cloud-based applications like Google Sheets, Microsoft Sharepoint, or Air Table that can also be used to store registry data.
If you are looking for more features like email alerting and the ability to seamlessly combine data from your registry with other city data in BuildingBlocks, the Slate application is another good option. Of course, if your city already has software for permitting, enforcement, and land management, there are often modules that can be stood up within those systems to track the registration workflow.
Every registry that we’ve seen requires renewal, usually after a specified period of time has elapsed. Simply relying on landlords to know when the renewal is due and to submit the required documentation and fees is a recipe for low compliance rates. If you’ve created a database that includes a field for the date of registration, it is fairly easy to create a formula to track when renewals are due. In an Excel Spreadsheet, this will allow staff to periodically check which properties are coming due for a renewal to trigger outreach. Using Alerts in BuildingBlocks [LINK] or the Workflow tools in Slate [LINK], you can remove a step and trigger an email a few months before renewal is due.
Some registrations also require renewals triggered by certain events like tenant turnover or the sale of the property. Here is where having your registry database integrated with other data streams like tax assessment, property transfers, and even utility billing can be invaluable. Staff can set Alerts to generate an email any time a registered property is sold or the utility billing account information changes. Learn more about how Hagerstown automated the process in our case study.
These simple steps will help to boost compliance rates and ensure your city or town isn’t missing out on capturing critical information on rental housing. Reach out if you’re interested in learning more. And stay tuned for our next post on some more advanced ways that our partner municipalities are running proactive rental registries that allow them to identify and address problem property owners while creating an incentive system for well-managed properties.