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Code Reform that Works

Call City Council at (302) 576-2140 and ask them to Vote NO on Blight Bill Ordinance 19-026 and create a balanced set of policies to strengthen neighborhoods.

1) Prioritize enforcement efforts on deteriorated vacant properties and problem landlords

2) Promote responsible landlord behavior

There are many cities with systems in place that seek to encourage responsible landlord behavior and focus enforcement resources on landlords who do not meet standards. Wilmington should model its new code enforcement system for rental properties on these models. More than half the residents of the city are renters and we need to expand the number of landlords offering quality rental housing. This requires working effectively with responsible landlords who want to be part of the solution.  

Immediate fixes include:

  • Focus on getting all landlords to register before considering changes the unit license fee

3) CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES BEFORE any new legislation is passed to make changes to the housing code, the following should be undertaken and results reported to Council and the public:

  • Operational Review of L&I to establish a clear set of priorities, objectives, measurable outcomes, and performance measures

  • Program Review of the Vacant Property Registration Program to document the impact of this program in its 10+ year history, to understand its successes, weaknesses and what needs to be changed for it to be more effective in achieving its policy outcomes.

  • Program Review of Code Enforcement practices, including legal actions, undertaken over the last five years to analyze how the existing code has been utilized: Number and type of code violations cited, how many resolved, in what time frame? Number and type of violations taken to court, how many resolved, in what time frame? How many unresolved, and why?

  • Program Review of the Rental Property Inspection Program to analyze how many rental properties exist, how many have licenses, how many have been inspected, and successes and weaknesses of the program.

  • Plan for the maintenance, demolition, disposition, and or rehabilitation of vacant properties currently owned by the City of Wilmington, the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank, and Wilmington Housing Partnership.

4) Ensure that administrative enforcement includes due process

Administrative enforcement should be based on national best practices that provide for effective due process protection in the context of administrative code enforcement, including:

  • Qualifications for membership in the reviewing entity: Typically, members of the Review Board are required to have a background in housing, codes, and the law. 

  • Bright line between the reviewing entity and the department: There needs to be enough distance between the L&I Department and the L&I Review Board so that the L&I Review Board can provide neutral third-party oversight.

  • Additional steps for the property owner to understand the violation and have the opportunity to establish a mutually agreeable compliance plan with L&I before fines are imposed. In many jurisdictions, administrative code enforcement includes a hearing with the Code Enforcement Officer where the evidence is presented and the property owner has the chance to respond. The goal of all code enforcement should be compliance, and the ordinance should include adequate steps of communication between L&I and the property owner to serve the purpose of gaining compliance before imposing fines.

  • Additional steps to appeal the decision of the L&I Review Board to ensure due process. For example, New Castle County’s administrative code enforcement for property maintenance includes the following: Section PM, Writ of certiorari. An aggrieved party may appeal the decision of the Board of License, Inspection and Review by filing a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Delaware Superior Court. 

  • Consider applying administrative penalties only to nuisance properties that have a history of multiple health and safety code violations 

5) Change the definition of “Vacant Property” from: any unoccupied property to: any unoccupied property that is not kept secure, clean, and watertight, with working windows and doors.

This would focus the Vacant Property Fines on properties that are not being maintained by property owners, and not penalize property owners who could choose not to occupy their property for any number of reasons that do not affect their upkeep of the property.

6) Make all property owners, including the City of Wilmington, the Wilmington Land Bank, Wilmington Housing Authority, and other affiliated government entities, register their vacant properties with the Vacant Property Registration program.

This would create a complete list of vacant property addresses and their owners, which is critical for all parties to be able to understand the extent of vacancy in the City so that they can work together to address it. The City may want to exempt itself and other entities from the fines, but it shouldn’t exempt itself and other affilated entities from having the vacant properties they own be on the list.

7) 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, such as the following:

  • Homeowner Repair Grant Program

  • Down-Payment and Settlement Assistance Program for first-time homebuyers

  • Grants for construction costs of bringing a vacant property back into use

  • Relocation assistance for tenants displaced by code enforcement actions on their landlords

  • “Clean and Lien” property maintenance programs to ensure that the city has the resources to maintain properties not taken care of by their owners in order to maintain the quality of life and property values in neighborhoods.​

Speak Up!

Call City Council at (302) 576-2140 and Ask Them to Vote NO on Ordinance ORD. 19-026 (Agenda Item #4654) and ask for the community to be involved in creating a balanced set of policies to strengthen neighborhoods!

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