Monday, November 14, 2011

Should somebody give Jordan Green a journalism award for his reporting on this?

It’s hard to cry over spilt milk.

If the state legislature decides
they’re going to put a program out of business,
then they’ve got the authority to do that."

Robbie Perkins

"When the NC General Assembly voted amend the state’s rental inspection law,
it appeared to spell the demise of RUCO,
short for Rental Unit Certificate of Occupation,
a model program in Greensboro
that proactively inspected rental properties
and required landlords to obtain a certificate
before placing them on the market.

The Greensboro City Council has drawn heat
for opting to remain silent on the issue
on the eve of a critical Senate vote.

...Willena Cannon,
healthy homes organizer for the Greensboro Housing Coalition,
said ...landlords often tell her, incorrectly,
that they don’t have to correct violations
because RUCO is no longer in force...

...a quiet debate has transpired in legal circles across the state
on whether the new law has a loophole
that would allow cities such as Greensboro
to continue enforcing proactive housing inspection programs.

...The new law amended a section of state law
pertaining to building inspections in cities and counties,
prohibiting them from making periodic inspections
for “unsafe, unsanitary
or otherwise hazardous and unlawful conditions in buildings”
without reasonable cause.

Greensboro’s RUCO ordinance
was enacted under a separate statutory section
dealing with minimum housing standards.

The NC League of Municipalities had closely monitored the legislation
while it moved through the General Assembly. Following its passage,

Paul A. Meyer, chief legislative counsel
for the [NC League of Municipalities]
...noted that the legislation appeared to be directed at
“periodic inspection programs of local governments,”
and suggested a possibility
that “local city or county residential inspection program ordinances
organized under different enabling authority” might not be affected.

...Tom Pollard, interim city attorney for the City of Greensboro,
...told council: “I have concluded that these clear prohibitions
apply to the city’s RUCO ordinance,
regardless of the adopting authority.”

Tyler Mulligan, a professor of public law and government
...addressed the question in an aptly titled Sept. 20 blog post:
“Minimum Housing: A Way Around Residential Inspection Limits?”

Even assuming that the two sections of state law
“provide separate authority for minimum housing public officers
to conduct periodic inspections,
a court is likely to resist an interpretation
that allows minimum housing public officers
to get around the reasonable-cause provisions
of the rental inspection law,” he wrote.

Michael Pendergraft a veteran of numerous battles
with the local real estate industry to preserve the ordinance,
and now serves as vice president of the RUCO Advisory Board
representing the neighborhood congress.

....“The only way to find out
if a duplex outlet is loose and a risk for fire
is to check it,” he said.

[Ralph] Peeples, ...Wake Forest law professor [said]
...“The concept here is so important that all housing ought to be habitable.

...The only way,
if you’re going to have a law imposing minimum housing standards,
is that there has to be an enforcement mechanism.

To say that there can’t be inspections except for reasonable cause
struck me as silly.”

“the existence and occupation of dwellings in this state
that are unfit for human habitation
are inimical to the welfare and dangerous and injurious
to the health, safety and morals of the people of this state.”

North Carolina’s minimum housing standards law

The statutory guidelines of the ordinance
hold that the governing body of any city adopting an ordinance
under the enacting authority of the minimum housing-standards law
must prepare an estimate of expenses for equipment,
personnel and supplies
“necessary for periodic examinations
and investigations of the dwellings in the city
for the purpose of determining the fitness of dwellings
for human habitation.”

Another section of the statute
holds that all powers conferred on cities
by the minimum housing standard law
“shall be in addition and supplemental to the powers
conferred by any other law.”

Peeples wrote ...the law passed by the General Assembly in June
“has little or no effect”
on the state’s minimum housing standards law,
and that the minimum housing standards law,
which provides the enacting authority for RUCO,
“can be enforced.”

Peeples wrote that despite the amendment to the building inspections law,
the minimum housing standards law “presumably remains in force.”

He also noted that the statute amended by the General Assembly
refers to “building inspectors”
while the statute that provides the enabling authority for RUCO
refers to “public officers.”

..."Based on my reading of that amendment,
Greensboro’s RUCO ordinance is still enforceable.

I think this is a very conservative position that I’m taking.

We should interpret the law as it’s written.

I’m not trying to expand anything.

I’m trying to say the law is what it says it is.”

Ralph Peeples
Wake Forest Law

Asked if they would vote to continue to enforce RUCO,
even if it were challenged in court,
some ...either expressed opposition to the program
or dodged the question during a forum last month.

Nancy Hoffmann...said RUCO had been successful
and had improved the city’s housing inventory,
but she appreciated that landlords might have a different perspective.

Jim Kee and Zack Matheny,
...echoed ...criticism that city staff is inspecting the same properties
over and over again.

Jordan Green

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