"A lot of
folks have put in a lot of time and effort into it," Coons told
a meeting of Council's executive committee on Nov. 17.
months of discussion, a diverse panel approved draft legislation
on Nov. 5 at what was intended to be its final meeting, he
said. "Everyone but members of the [Gordon] administration
voted unanimously in favor of this draft," he said.
Baker, general manager of the Department of Land Use and two of
his staff, as well as a county police community-liaison officer,
attended the taskforce
meeting. "I am a member of the executive branch [of county
government], but I was there [representing] the department with
responsibility for enforcement," he said.
response to a Delaforum inquiry, Gordon himself declared
unqualified opposition to the approach Coons and the taskforce
bill that has no teeth," he said. If enacted, "people will have
the impression we have a rental code, but we won't."
codes, which are common in urban jurisdictions around the
nation, are intended mainly as a lever to improve the overall
quality of rental properties and combat substandard conditions
in apartment units occupied by low-income people. Wilmington and
Newark have such codes.
draft would require:
Registration of all rental
properties and designation of a local agent for those owned by
people living or companies based outside of the county;
Random inspection by code
enforcement officers of a portion of the properties in addition
to the present practice of the officers responding to tenant
Distribution by landlords every time
a 'rental relationship' changes of a tenants'-rights pamphlet,
which includes information on where to go to get help to remedy
Throughout the drafting process, Coons and members of the
taskforce have maintained that a considerable majority of rental
properties in the county are up to code and that the proposed
law is intended to crack down on the others.
estimated that there are 35,000 rental properties in the county.
The preamble of the draft legislation said that a quarter of the
county's population lives in rented units.
said he believes "our rental stock is really bad." During the
past 10 years or so, conditions have gotten considerably worse
in substandard units and the number of such units has increased,
he said, adding that the proposed legislation "doesn't get to
the dispute between Gordon and Coons appears to be over the
matter of how often a given unit will be inspected and how many
units would be inspected in a given year.
legislation calls on the land use department to "use its best
efforts to inspect 5% or more of the registered rental apartment
units" each year. That is in addition to responding to
complaints. There would be 48 hours advance notice given before
an inspection, which would target violations of the county's
property-maintenance, building and development codes.
presently provided for in those codes would be assessed for
violations, but the proposed ordinance would continue to allow
discretionary waiving of penalties for timely correction of
violations. That is now a common practice. There would also be
fines, and possible jail terms, for failure to register a
property or distribute the rights pamphlet.
said a rental code would not be effective unless all properties
are inspected as frequently as annually. In previous discussion,
members of the taskforce have maintained that would be
prohibitively expensive to do and a practical impossibility.
Gordon disputed that.
executive attributed the random approach to inspection and what
he described as a less-than-strong emphasis on enforcement in
the draft legislation to the influence of the Delaware Apartment
Association in the drafting process. That association was
represented on the taskforce, as were tenants'-rights advocates,
civic organizations and housing agencies.
(the apartment trade group) are supporting this because they got
pretty much what they wanted [in the way of] a weak law," Gordon
not legislation crafted to benefit any special interests. This
is legislation that will assist residents of rental properties
in ensuring that their housing meets all applicable standards,"
Quercetti, president of the association,
replied in a statement. "Apartment owners and residents,
homeowners and businessmen, housing experts and leaders of
numerous organizations support this rental code legislation
because it meets the needs of New Castle County. It is
disappointing to us that this well-crafted ordinance does mot
meet the needs of the county executive."
of inspections, whatever their scope, is also an issue. The
draft legislation refers to using fines collected for violations
to help finance the additional code-enforcement load. There
would be no charge for registering rental properties or updating
registrations as necessary on an annual basis.
don't pay [enough] for anything," Gordon said. He reportedly
favors imposing most of the burden of financing whatever
inspection system is used on owners of rental properties.
However, he stopped short of specifically advocating that in his
telephone interview with Delaforum.
not clear whether Gordon has or is in the process of preparing
alternative legislation. In the interview, he referred to the
random approach as "different from what they do in the rest of
the country" and indicated that he would favor using one or more
codes from other jurisdictions as models for a New Castle County
there appears at the present stage to be a battle shaping up
between the executive and Council president, who has said he is
interested in succeeding Gordon, who is ineligible to seek
re-election in 2004, both men said they don't want to see that
be very disappointed if we had two competing ordinances," Coons
said. Gordon declared, "I don't want this to be a political
who has indicated he will introduce the proposed ordinance as
soon as Council's Dec. 2 meeting, asked his colleagues at the
executive committee meeting if they wanted to sign on as
co-sponsors. He had not immediate takers.
also offered to hold an open-to-the-public 'workshop' session in
which Council members and members of the taskforce could
participate before it is introduced. It also would be discussed
in open session by Council's land use committee before coming to
a vote at a subsequent Council session.