tenants need now is registration [of landlords]; the tenants'
guide, which is a real cheap way to enforce the code; and the
[Rental Housing] Advisory Committee," said Christopher White,
deputy director of Community Legal Aid Society.
surprise proposal came near the end of a 90-minute informational session
arranged by Council president Christopher Coons on Dec. 22 at which
Coons indicated that he will press for passage of the
measure when Council next meets on Jan. 13.
appeared to reject White's suggestion, responding after it was
made that it would "move us back six months" and adding, "We
want to go forward, not backward." The
measure, which Coons is sponsoring, was drafted over a period of
18 months by a taskforce he convened.
member of that panel, Lee Hoffman, of the Milltown-Limestone
Civic Alliance, urged quick passage. "We
don't want to [have] another two years of deliberation on which
[version of an] ordinance is best," he said.
Delaforum previously reported, the county Department of Land Use
has drafted a version
White and Michael Morton, who said they seldom find
themselves on the same side of an issue, jointly narrate a
presentation supporting enactment of a county rental code.
which differs from Coons's primarily in
elimination of a provision for random inspection of rental units
and requiring a license, at a cost to landlords of $25 per unit,
instead of simple registration, which would not require payment
of a fee. That approach dovetails with the position County
Executive Tom Gordon has taken on the issue.
Baker, general manager of the department, reiterated support of
what he called a more manageable inspection system and licensing
as a tool to assist in what he said would more effective
enforcement of the ordinance.
point, however, there are not competing ordinances before
Council. Councilwoman Karen Venezky, who is considered by some
people close to the situation as the Council member most likely to sponsor the Land
Use-Gordon version, flatly denied after the session that she is
even considering doing so. "No one has said anything to me about
it and I don't plan to [do it]." she told Delaforum.
the other Council members present at the session clearly
signaled how they stand on the issue. William Tansey came
closest to doing so when he remarked that licensing landlords
"would put teeth into [the ordinance]." Gordon previously used
that term in an interview Delaforum and it has become something
of a pivot around which differences between his views and
Coons's have revolved.
stopping short of endorsing Gordon's and Baker's views on that
issue, Tansey said is generally known that "large corporations
look upon fines as a cost of doing business."
Robert Woods asked rhetorically whether
stepped-up enforcement of property codes as the result of a
rental law "will eventually deplete the housing [available to]
in the proposed ordinance for an advisory committee was viewed
by several speakers as an avenue for improving the law and
adjusting it to conditions that it uncovers. Coons said the
committee, which is designed to mirror the diversity of the
taskforce, will be expected to be in continual touch with the
situation and Council will be able to act when the ordinance
comes up for a mandated review after two years.
previously reported, Coons agreed to drop an original provision
that would have resulted in the law's expiring if not
specifically renewed on the second anniversary of its going into
effect in favor of requiring Council to take a second look at
what amounted to a dramatization of the melding of disparate
interests on the taskforce, tenant advocate White and Michael
Morton, a lawyer who represents the Delaware Apartment
Association, a property owners' organization, alternated in
narrating a Power Point presentation supporting Coons's ordinance.
That came across as something close to the style of a classical Greek
to the taskforce, White said the group started out
antagonistically, but "we learned to hold hands."
described the proposal which emerged as "strong, targeted,
ultimately very cost-effective and commensurately fair."
White's later suggestion were accepted, that would not eliminate
inspections of rental properties. Code enforcement officers
would respond, as they do now, to complaints from
tenants and others. Distribution of the tenants' guide is
expected to spark an increase in the number of such complaints.
said there is no telling how great the increase would be. If
complaints came from only 5% of the county's estimated 35,000
units -- which include both apartments and houses -- the number
would increase from 500 annually to around 1,750. A handout he
distributed gave alternate scenarios totaling up to 7,000. "It
could be a scary number," Baker said.
county has 12 code enforcement officers who last year handled a
total of 6,600 complaints of all kinds. The taskforce has agreed
to delay implementation of its proposed random-inspection system
for a year to allow time to define the increased workload.
said he believes the fear of an onslaught of complaints may be
exaggerated. "In months of meetings we didn't see evidence;
there was no crisis [of substandard housing] identified," he
use department has estimated the cost of implementing its
version of the ordinance at $837,169 in the fiscal year
beginning July l, increasing to $897,716 in fiscal 2007. Eight
new inspectors would be hired. Coons's version, the department
said, will cost $958,844 next year, plus $47,230 in extra
start-up costs, rising to $1,027,678 in two years. It would
required hiring 10 new inspectors.
also disputed those figures and said he will rely on Council's
finance committee to come up with the fiscal-impact note that
such legislation requires.
sharpest exchange of the session came when Morton accused the
land use department of changing its position on the taskforce's
proposals. "They signed off on this., It was only later that
they came back and said, 'We've changed our mind.'," he said.
denied that. "It was not my understanding [that] we had an
agreement. The first time I saw the [pending] draft, we were
raising concerns," he said.
president of the Delaware Apartment Association, cautioned
against driving large banks and insurance companies, which
finance mortgages and thus supply capital to build, purchase and
renovate rental properties. Rather than cope with the prospect
of an applicant's operating license being suspended or revoked,
"they will just walk away from any deals," he said. "Lenders
don't want anything to get between them and their equity," he
said. Northern Delaware is a small enough market
he added, those firms require that rental units be kept up to
all local building and property codes and employ their own
inspection procedures to assure that. "A lender's not going to
give you $4 million or $5 million without inspections," he said.
Riley, of the Delaware Housing Coalition, said licensing would
have relatively greater impact on tenants than on the landlords
it is intended to police. "Tenants [could] be pushed out of a
unit in compliance with codes for [the owner's] not
registering," she said. Not taking out a license would be "an
easy way to get rid of tenants."
agreed, noting that, despite laws forbidding reprisals, eviction
remains a powerful deterrent to tenants filing complaints. "A
lot of slumlords say any sign of cooperation from the tenant
will end up with the landlord showing the tenant the door," he
landlord is not a hobby. You're supplying a basic need," he
said. "If they're not providing a decent place to live, they
should not be landlords.