Real estate-dominated board votes to explore scaling back rental inspection ordinance

by Jordan Green

A task force created to recommend possible changes to the city of Greensboro’s rental housing inspection ordinance showed up empty handed at a recent board hearing because of deadlock between its advocates and representatives of the real estate industry that would like to eliminate it.

Despite the lack of agreement on the task force, the RUCO Advisory Board voted on Aug. 4 to send the task force back to the table to explore an option championed by the Triad Real Estate and Building Industries Coalition, or TREBIC, to eliminate most proactive inspections and a requirement that all rental units obtain a certificate, and beef up a provision to address socalled “problem properties.”

Donna Newton, advisor to the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress, and Beth McKee-Huger, executive director of Greensboro Housing Coalition, have made it clear that they will oppose any recommendation to eliminate proactive inspections.

“The ordinance has done exactly, exactly what we expected it would do: It’s dramatically reduced substandard housing and complaints,” Newton said. “For those of us who are pro-RUCO, an old adage comes to mind. There’s an old adage about if you take a frog out of the woods and throw him in a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump out and it won’t hurt him. But if you put him in lake water and you slowly turn up the heat, he’ll sit right in there and boil. We feel that that’s kind of how we’re being treated is as that frog. But I feel we’re smarter than the average frog, and we feel the heat being turned up.”

The one dissenting vote on the RUCO Advisory Board came from Willena Cannon, an organizer with the housing coalition. The board is heavily weighted towards people in the real estate industry. Chairman Peter Placentino, who was appointed to represent city council District 3, is the vice president for property management at Brown Investment Properties. Todd Rotruck, a landlord who is the neighborhood congress’ representative, was among the members voting in favor of the TREBIC option. Other members include Greensboro Landlords Association President Bobby Akin, who was appointed as a “general citizen”; Koury Corp. Residential Property Manager Lisa Dellinger, who represents TREBIC; and Bryon Nelson, who represents Triad Apartment Association. The newest member of the board is Dawn S. Chaney, a landlord appointed by Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw to represent District 4. As a member of the landlords association, Chaney contributed $100 to its political action committee. The PAC, in turn, contributed $2,750 to city council candidates last year, including $350 to Rakestraw’s campaign.

One person who expressed support for the RUCO ordinance is city council liaison Robbie Perkins, who is the president of NAI Piedmont Triad, a commercial real estate brokerage. Perkins said when the council originally created the ordinance, the city attorney at the time counseled against using targeted inspections because problem landlords could argue that they were being treated unfairly.

“The last thing I want to do is allow a gap in the ordinance that allows some of the problem landlords to escape the grasp of this ordinance,” he said. “And I just can’t allow that.”

No members of city council, who will have to approve any final changes, are publicly advocating for the demise of the ordinance at this time, but supporters of RUCO say they are taking nothing for granted.