Landlords agree to inside rental inspections

by Jordan Green

Representatives of the Greensboro property management industry and tenant advocates hammered out a oneyear agreement on Oct. 30 to have the city re-inspect a fifth of certified rental housing from the outside, and subject a random 2 percent of that pool to full inspection.

The previous week tenant advocates had won a victory by getting language providing for automatic renewal of certificates struck from the draft rewrite of the ordinance replaced with language requiring exterior re-inspection of certified rental units every five years. Incorporating sentinel inspections — a random sampling program of interior inspections to look for code violations that might not be evident from the outside or might not come to light through complaints — into the draft rewrite represented an additional win for tenant advocates. Industry representatives, who initially pushed for the revocation of mandatory inspection, known as the Rental Unit Certificate of Occupancy program, remain uncomfortable with random mandatory inspection of properties that have not been subject to complaints, which they regard as costly and intrusive. Tenant advocates agreed to revisit the ordinance in 12 months as a compromise to accommodate the industry concerns. “I think we did a heck of a job,” said Donna Newton, advisor to the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress. “We still got the sentinel inspections and the exterior comprehensive inspections.” The new inspection provisions came about through a meeting between tenant advocates, including the neighborhood congress, the Greensboro Housing Coalition and the Greensboro Human Relations Commission, and city staff, coupled with intensive lobbying of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industries Coalition, or TREBIC. Marlene Sanford, president of TREBIC, took a prominent role in negotiating the agreement on behalf of the industry. Industry representatives also caucused on Oct. 27 to try develop a unified position that would be amenable to the tenant advocates, said Mark Austin of Fidelity Realty, who founded the Greensboro Landlords Association. Newton said representatives of her organization, along with the housing coalition and the human relations commission, “have talked many times” with TREBIC outside of the formal meetings. The three groups advocating for tenant rights brought a proposal to the Oct. 30 meeting calling for comprehensive exterior re-inspection once every five years, and random full inspection of 10 percent of all certified units every five years. TREBIC brought a similar proposal to the meeting, which called for full inspection of 2 percent of units, including those whose certificates have been revoked, those that have been subject to a hearing before a nascent Minimum Housing Commission, those that have had one or more violations confirmed in the previous year, and a random selection to meet the percentage quota. Rifts within the two sides erupted during the heated discussion, and participants frequently interrupted each other and raised their voices. Todd Rotruck, who was designated by the city as the neighborhood congress’ designee to the task force, argued that “we don’t need to waste the city’s time and money” with random sampling and called for compromise from tenant advocates. Newton, advisor to the congress, shot back: “We’re happy with RUCO as it was, so us being here at the table is a compromise.” The congress passed a motion at its Sept. 14 meeting to support the implementation of a random sampling system to re-inspect 10 percent of previously certified units. According to meeting notes, Rotruck had “encouraged support of a RUCO Board recommendation for a system of automatic renewals, except in cases where there is a RUCO violation triggered by a citizen’s rental housing complaint, and continuation of fees for violations.” Irene Agapion-Palamaris, office manager at Arco Realty, questioned whether the draft rewrite would be effective and fair, but TREBIC’s Sanford maintained control of the negotiations. Later, Agapion-Palamaris said she was happy with the outcome. Mark Austin of Fidelity Realty also said he supported the agreement. “What I was frustrated with was we could not get it done,” he said. “These meetings have been going on since, what, June? I thought we get it settled last week. I’ve been in meetings for three hours. I have a real job.” The agreement goes to the RUCO Advisory Board for consideration on Thursday. If approved by that body, it could be heard by the Greensboro City Council as early as Nov. 18.

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Donna Newton of the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress (l-r), MarleneSanford of TREBIC, Lisa Dellinger of the Koury Corp. and BethMcKee-Huger of the Greensboro Housing Coalition led negotiations duringa rewrite of the city’s housing inspection ordinance. (photo by JordanGreen)