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Apartment industry wary of changes

by Jordan Green

The Greensboro Engineering & Inspections Department plans to meet with apartment industry representatives and safe-housing advocates this month to discuss new code requirements adopted by the NC General Assembly.

Chief Inspector Dan Reynolds said state lawmakers are in the process of adopting several new home safety requirements: tamper-proof electrical receptacles, carbon monoxide detectors, ground fault circuit interrupters to prevent electrocution and arc fault circuit interrupters to prevent house fires. The city must decide whether to incorporate those new code requirements into its periodic inspection of housing rental units, or let property owners take responsibility for staying in compliance with the new state standards.

The apartment industry, as represented by the Triad Apartment Association, has grudgingly supported the city’s Rental Unit Certificate of Occupancy program, or RUCO, which begins its second cycle of inspections of the city’s rental housing stock in January. Meanwhile, city officials are keeping a nervous eye on legislation supported by the state apartment industry that would prevent inspections without probable cause, but exempt city ordinances such as RUCO that were put in place before the bill becomes law.

RUCO mandates periodic inspections for such deficiencies as rotting floor joists, faulty electrical wiring and peeling paint. The new safety devices required by the state add a whole new layer of requirements.

“There’s this code compliance factor in this thing now that wasn’t in it before,” Reynolds said of the new safety standards. “The city may look at it and say, ‘That’s just too much that we may be accountable for, and leave it out there for the property owners to fend for themselves.’

“One of the things I see the city as being is a certifying agency,” he added. “Say if you decided to rent your parents house out and you wanted to make sure all your devices are in place, whether the tenant is requesting it or you just want to have it on hand, then you would request an inspection by the city, which would be more accepted by the legal community than if you were going to send your brother-in-law over to do it. It would be a voluntary program rather than a mandatory program. It would be a source of revenue to the city because you would have to pay a fee to have it done.”

The apartment industry has reacted with unease to murmuring about changes in the city’s housing code enforcement regime. Triad Apartment Association Executive Director Clarke Martin has expressed annoyance towards Engineering & Inspections Director Butch Simmons for not consulting with his group.

“I just got an informal tip from a sources inside GSO government that Butch ‘claims there are 4 people he has asked for input’ on the RUCO changes he’s proposing at the council briefing tomorrow,” Martin wrote in an April 28 e-mail to Marlene Sanford, executive director of the Triad Real Estate & Building Industry Coalition. “I don’t think there’s a TAA representative in that group of 4, at least no one mentioned it to me.”

The e-mail was carbon-copied to representatives of Koury Corp., Brown Investment Properties and Twin City Real Estate Management, along with Donna Newton, advisor to the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress.

Martin characterized Simmons’ behavior as “disturbing, very disturbing.” He noted that one of the items on the agenda was a review of the city’s requests to the state legislature, and speculated about whether Simmons would speak out against the proposed Senate bill to require probable cause for housing inspections, which Martin referenced as “AANC’s SB1507.” The Apartment Association of North Carolina is the umbrella organization to which the Triad Apartment Association belongs.

“We had just had an informal conversation with three other large constituencies – four constituencies on the housing side, housing providers, housing users and property owners about RUCO,” Martin said last week. “They’re the company-industry liaison for RUCO. We met to talk about rumors that we were hearing to make sure that we were faithful to each other. Nobody had heard about this. Whose ox is going to be gored? Somebody had heard that the landlords were out for blood – to kill the program, that the apartment association wanted to kill the program. That’s not true.

“Since that time we have had some conversations with Mr. Simmons, and he’s going to meet with us all and we’re going to talk about it,” Martin continued. “If he’s proposing changes we’d certainly like to be informed.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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