Wilmington mayor announces public meetings on proposed changes to housing code

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Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki is seeking support for changes in house code reforms that have widely attacked and led the City Council to balk at making changes.

“We have been working with interested parties including council members, community leaders, investors and residents for a few years to gain greater acceptance of why changes are needed to the city’s housing code,” said Purzycki. “We have made changes to the original legislation numerous times and we are still at a stalemate with council. I hope by speaking directly to citizens over the next two weeks they will better understand why we need to change the law. We will present facts and visuals to show how a change in the law can strengthen our neighborhoods and improve the living conditions of renters.”

Housing Code information meetings will be held on Wednesday, June 26 at 6 p.m. at Fellowship Hall at Ezion Mt. Carmel Church, located at 800 North Walnut Street, and on Thursday, June 27, also beginning at 6 p.m. at St. Elizabeth School, located at 1500 Cedar Street. Two additional community meetings will be held in early July. Details of those meetings will be announced on Monday.

Purzycki stated in a press release that even though there have been recent changes to the housing code ordinance in response to suggestions, he said the proposal does not veer from the original purpose of moving to a civil, rather than criminal, enforcement process so violations of the housing code by vacant property owners and rental property owners can be resolved more quickly.

The mayor’s office offered the following summary of changes• Change enforcement of the housing code with respect to vacant and rental properties from criminal enforcement to civil enforcement with civil fines for non-compliance.
• Establish a target goal of 1,500 rental properties to be inspected annually by L&I and require that all rental dwellings be inspected every three years instead of every two or five years. If no violations are found during a rental inspection, the L&I Commissioner may delay the next required rental inspection one additional year from three years to four years.
• Change the fee assessed for a second rental re-inspection from $25 to $125.
• Add language reiterating that regular rental inspections are a condition of a City rental business license.
• Add a civil fine of $500 per rental unit for failure to register/obtain a rental business license.
• Add a civil fine of $250 for each violation of the housing code if the violation relates to a rental property or a vacant property. Each week’s failure to comply is a separate offense subject to an additional $250 fine. There is no change to the criminal fine structure for all other types of property, except that the new law would change “each day’s failure to comply may result in an additional fine” to “each week’s failure to comply may result in a separate offense.”
• Increase the business license fee for rental properties to $100 per unit, not to exceed a total business license fee of $10,120. It would increase the fee from the current formula, which is $50 (for one or two units) or $120 (for three or more units) plus $10 per unit.
• Amend the vacant property registration fee program to: (1) increase the registration fees for properties that are vacant three or more years; (2) require registration of buildings vacant for six consecutive months rather than 45 consecutive days; (3) impose a civil fine of $500 for failing to register a vacant building within 30 days of the required time to register; (4) exempt vacant buildings owned by the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank Corporation (“Land Bank”) from registration requirements; (5) provide that purchasers of a vacant building from the Land Bank be billed a vacant registration fee based on the duration of vacancy from the time he or she received the building from the Land Bank, rather than a vacant registration fee based on the complete duration of the vacancy prior to that new owner receiving the building; (6) provide for a vacant registration fee abatement program.
• Change the minimum amount of time citizens have to correct a code violation from 45 days to 30 days, unless a shorter time period is required to protect public safety. Dwellings that are unfit for human habitation are provided only three days to comply.
• Change the requirement that the City mail notice to the “last known address,” to instead, the property address and the tax address, and provide that the time notification period begins to run on the earlier of: five business days from the date of mailing; the date of actual delivery; or the date the notice is posted.
• Change the appeal fee charged to citizens who choose to challenge a citation from a non-refundable $50 to a refundable fee if the appeal is successful.
• Change the time in which a person may appeal a citation from 10 business days to 20 calendar days.
• Amend the code to require distribution of housing and rental program information by the City to owner occupants and tenants during all inspections.
• Amend the code to require quarterly reports to City Council providing the results of rental inspections and other information the L&I Commissioner determines should be included.

Critics have claimed the measures are too harsh and punish the poor. Others say that landlords and speculators leaving buildings in poor condition in vacant need to be held accountable.

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