of Council's 13 members -- seven of whom weren't in office when
a proposed ordinance establishing a code was shot down by a
four-to-three vote in January, 2004 -- asked a few questions but
voiced no objections during a presentation about the fairly
complex proposed ordinance's provisions on Jun. 20 at an
executive committee meeting.
Members of the taskforce which
County Executive Christopher Coons originally convened to draft
the legislation when he
was president of County Council met privately to
consider possible changes in provisions of the revived
measure and decided not to make any, the committee was
Robert Weiner, primary
sponsor of the ordinance now before Council, was not
present at the committee meeting, but recently told a
civic group that he intends to bring it up for a vote at
Council's Jun. 28 session.
Only he and William
Tansey voted affirmatively with Coons last year. No one
has any doubt that the political ramifications of their
support had more to do with the measure's defeat then
than its contents.
Coons, now as well as
then, regards enactment of a rental code as
essential to deal with what he, and others, perceive to
be a significant problem of substandard housing for
acknowledge that the extent of the problem is unknown.
"It's very hard to get an accurate measure of the
At a glace
Key provisions of the proposed
rental code legislation:
All rental units must be registered.
Failure to register will result in a fine.
Landlords must distribute a
'tenants' rights' brochure. Failure to do so
will result in a fine.
The Department of Land Use will
continue to respond to complaints about the
condition of rental properties.
At least 5% of the registered
units are to be inspected at random each year.
An advisory committee will
monitor implementation of the law.
County Council must review the
ordinance two years after enactment to determine
if changes are needed.
Peuquet, of the Center for Community Research and Service at the
University of Delaware, told the executive committee. By the
time that a mandatory Council review of how the code is working
rolls around two years after it goes into effect, "we'll know
how serious a problem we do, or do not, have," he added.
code will require every owner of rental property to register
with the Department or Land Use. That requirement covers any
property -- not just apartments -- for rent and includes, for
instance, incidental rental of a house from which the owner will
be temporarily absent. Separate registration would be required
for each rental unit.
inspections in addition to those conducted in response to
complaints will produce data on the number, nature and severity
of violations of the newly updated county property code.
number of inspections and how to go about deciding which
properties to inspect was cited last year by the Gordon
administration as the principal flaw in the proposed ordinance.
It was argued that code enforcers would be overwhelmed by a
requirement that 5% of the properties chosen at random be
inspected each year.
consensus estimate is that there are about 36,000 rental units
in the county outside of Newark and Wilmington, but no one knows
for sure. The proposed legislation calls for the land use
department to make a best-efforts attempt to reach the 5%
use general manager Charles Baker, who last year questioned
whether his department would have sufficient resources to do the
job, indicated to the executive committee that he now has a
higher degree of confidence about that.
Inclusion of $200,000 in the fiscal 2006 budget will permit
hiring of two additional employees, which he said will likely be
enough to handle most of the administrative work of registering
properties in the first year. "Next year we will be looking
[for] more code-enforcement officers. I can't tell now how many
more we'll need," he said.
officers, he explained, would be able to accomplish, on average,
about 1,800 inspections over the course of the year. That would
be the 5% random inspections if the estimate of the total number
of units is accurate. However, it is expected that enactment of
the code will generate a significant increase in the number of
complaints from tenants and others. The department currently
responds to complaints, but does not differentiate between
rental and other properties in that regard.
enforcement manager James Edwards said that the proposed rental
code provides "a lesser standard" for inspectors to gain access
to a property where owners refuse to voluntarily admit them. In
those instances now -- and with complaint-driven inspections
under the proposed code -- it is necessary to have 'probable
cause' to obtain warrants, he said.
Department policy now is to give 48 hours advance notice before
inspecting. That would be required by the proposed ordinance.
Edwards told Karen Venezky that random inspection would not deal
with what she raised as a serious and growing concern -- the
excessive number of people living in some units. "We have rental
houses with 13 and 14 people in them. ... Forty-eight hours
notice gives them time to go live with their boyfriend or
girlfriend and those who are left have a number of reasons why
they are there but [say they] don't live there," she said.
Peuquet said the proposed ordinance provides for "imposing a
stringent enough fine" to secure compliance with both its
registration provision and adherence to the property code. At
the same time, "it doesn't impose a burden on tenants or
owners," he said. "We think we're going to get a high
level of compliance."
is now, Baker said, "95% of the properties we go into come into
compliance" without the need to impose fines or pursue further
Christopher White, assistant director of Community Legal Aid and
a lawyer who represents tenants, said the proposed code is a
compromise between competing interests. "It not only supports
the rights of tenants, but also [supports] the industry by
getting the bad guys out of there," he said.