Ask City Council to Withhold Their Support for the Blight Bill Until These Changes are Made
"Blight Bill" Ordinance 19-026 has been improved since it was first introduced, but it needs more changes before it should be passed by Wilmington City Council. Contact City Council members today and ask them to withhold their support until the following changes are made:
1) Target Bad Landlords Only
Change the enforcement of Chapter 34 with respect to vacant and rental properties from criminal enforcement to civil enforcement with civil fines for non-compliance for properties with major health and safety code violations only. All other properties should remain under the current system of code enforcement.
Why? Proposed Blight Bill 19-026 goes too far by making it possible for any rental or vacant property to get code violation fines for as minor an issue as peeling paint not repaired in 30 days. Those fines would add up at a rate of $250 a week for every code violation until it's fixed. The fines could then become a first priority lien on the property and the city could take that property to sheriff's sale to sell it to a third-party buyer or buy it back for the price of the liens. This could result in evictions and more vacant properties owned by the City of Wilmington. These outcomes don't help neighborhoods or stabilize families.
Wilmington needs policies that focus major penalties and accelerated timelines to foreclosure on the owners who are neglecting their properties, with reasonable timelines and fines for everyone else. We can't just assume that L&I will take this approach, we have to ask Wilmington City Council to make it the law.
2. Focus on Neglected Vacant Properties
Change the definition of vacant to:
If a building is unoccupied and:
Unsafe or unfit for people to live or work inside the building, or
Has two code violations that have not been fixed, or
Has six code violations in the past year
Why? The goal should be to get vacant properties back into use and get vacant property owners to keep up their properties. It makes no sense to fine a vacant property that is well maintained the same as one that is falling apart. By making fines a penalty for not maintaining a vacant as opposed to just having a vacant, we create an incentive for owners to keep up their properties.
3. Revitalize Our Neighborhoods
Don't eliminate rent withholding. Don't eliminate code violation warnings.
Dedicate income from fines and fees associated with code enforcement and rental property licensing to create a balanced set of policies that supports neighborhood reinvestment, including the following:
Homeowner Repair Grant Program
Down-Payment and Settlement Assistance Program for first-time home-buyers
Grants for construction costs of bringing a vacant property back into use
Relocation assistance for tenants displaced by code enforcement actions on their landlords
Why? Fines and fees are not enough to get owners to invest in their properties and potential buyers to invest in Wilmington's neighborhoods. We need a combination of carrots and sticks to maximize compliance and promote investment. We also need to expand ways for renters living in substandard units to access help and hold their landlords accountable to making repairs.
4. Support Policies that Make Our City Safer and Healthier
Apply the per unit rental fee to all units, regardless of how many units are in the building (don't cap the fee at $10,200)
Make the minimum number of properties to be inspected = 5,000 rental properties a year
Don't exempt vacant buildings owned by the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank Corporation (“Land Bank”) or any other owner from vacant property registration requirements
Make the per rental unit fee to $50 per unit (make up the difference by focusing on getting registered the 1/2 of total rental properties in the city that currently aren't licensed.
Don't eliminate requirement for Council approval of L&I's rules and regulations by changing oversight of L&I's rules and regulation to the City's administrative board.
Why? All owners should be held accountable for maintaining their properties to community standards, and no owner or entity should be exempt. All rental property owners should pay the same per unit fee. And if L&I is going to inspect all 15,000 rental units in the city once every three years as required in the code, it needs to increase its rate of inspections to 5,000 units a year.
Call City Council at (302) 576-2140 and Ask Them to Vote NO on Ordinance ORD. 19-026 until these changes are made!