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Published November 11 2013

Forum editorial: A building registry for Fargo?

Fargo city commissioners are right to take a go-slow approach to the question of establishing a building registry for the city. While registries are fairly common in the region (Grand Forks just adopted one, for example), the discussion thus far in Fargo seems to have two tracks that can be perceived as related or not.

Advocated primarily by Commissioner Melissa Sobolik, one provision of a registry would be aimed at curbing housing discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender tenants. That factor was the genesis of a discussion by city leaders that resulted in a toothless anti-discrimination resolution and statement of principle, not a path to an enforceable law. Sobolik and others believe discrimination against LGBT people is widespread. To no one’s surprise, rental property owners and managers don’t see a problem.

The second track of a building registry debate goes to accountability of owners and managers for a building’s condition as determined by inspections. It also has to do with the way in which inspectors and other government agencies either do or do not respond to renter concerns and complaints; in other words, renters’ rights. In Fargo, inspections are infrequent. And because of renter-unfriendly state law, tenants have little recourse, except to move if they believe their building has been mismanaged, is dangerous, or they have been treated unfairly and/or unethically by a landlord.

Two related (or not) issues are woven together in the building registry discussion. Should they be? Are there definitive data that either prove or disprove housing discrimination? Should the city improve its comparatively weak inspection/regulatory system? No easy answers. Thus, Sobolik and her colleagues on the commission have adopted a comprehensive and methodical approach that encourages involvement by building owners, tenants and human rights advocates.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.