Thu04172014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Council to consider rental property inspection ordinance

Colonial Beach Building Inspector Dexter Monroe addressed the town council during the August work session, describing some of the problems discovered with rental housing when Code Compliance Manager Theresa Davis responds to citizen complaints.

Monroe explained that he is called in when Davis finds unhealthy or unsafe living conditions that require his inspection. Monroe said, “Some of the problems discovered have been improperly hooked septic lines, with raw sewage running on the ground and makeshift electrical connections to holes in rotten floors that people have to walk around.”

Both Davis and Monroe asked the council to consider drafting a rental inspection ordinance.

Monroe said that usually inspections only occur when homeowners obtain a building permit or change its use. If there is no construction, no one goes in to inspect.

For rental units, there is only an initial inspection at the time the unit is turned into rental property, and only if the owner follows the proper procedures by applying to the Building and Zoning Office to record a change of use.

Monroe said that homeowners are the ones responsible for their own living conditions, but landlords have a responsibility to tenants to keep them safe from harm.  

Davis said that renters do not turn in complaints for fear of reprisal. Complaints usually occur when a renter is getting evicted; then they will take the time to call the town with complaints.

Both Davis and Monroe feel that a rental inspection program would illuminate these poor living conditions without jeopardizing the tenants, and force landlords to keep their properties in good repair and up to code.
Councilman Tim Curtin suggested that when a business license is obtained for rental units, it should trigger a response to alert the Building and Zoning Office to do an inspection.

Monroe explained that a business license is simply imposing a tax on the business, and has nothing to do with inspections. Monroe also noted that renting personal homes does not require a business license, and is not regulated. Monroe said that yearly or even bi-yearly inspections are necessary to keep rental properties up to code.

Gary Mitchell, Director of the Planning Department, said that state code allows for a rental inspection ordinance, but it must be adopted by the locality. Staff can find no evidence of one actually being adopted in Colonial Beach.

Councilman Tommy Edwards said that he is in favor of adopting an ordinance, and spoke highly of both Monroe and Davis. He said, “We need to back these people up and help them do their jobs!”

Councilman Jim Chiarello said, “Some of the things are covered under the Landlord/Tenants Act. I tend to shun creating another police force.”

Davis explained, “Our problem is many people don’t even know about the Landlord/Tenants Act.”

Monroe added, “Many landlords will get rid of tenants if they complain. In the landlord’s eyes, tenants are disposable, many people are looking for rental property.”

Councilwoman Linda Brubaker reminded the council, “When I first came on the council, we discussed this.” She supports the idea of pursuing a rental inspection ordinance.

After receiving approval from a majority of the council, Mitchell said that he would begin work on drafting an ordinance and inspection program to present to the council.

Linda Farneth

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