Wilmington landlords who violate the city code will now be subject to civil charges as opposed to criminal, under a plan approved by Wilmington City Council Thursday night.
A landlord that does not make repairs to their property after notification will now be subject to a $250 fine for each violation. That fine can be duplicated weekly if the homeowner continues to not make the change.
Under the updated ordinance, L&I inspectors would be required to provide written notice of a violation, and the landlord would then have 30 days to either make the repairs, or work out an agreement with the inspector for an extended time period based on the complication of the repair.
There is a caveat that if the L&I inspector feels the unit is unsuitable for habitation due to a safety concern, that time-frame can be cut to three days. That timeline can be extended by contacting the inspector.
Landlords would have 20 days from violation note to appeal to the L&I review board.
This system replaces a criminal-code violation that bill sponsor Councilwoman Maria Cabrera said took too long, with an average of 12 months in the court system.
"Basically the city has a broken and ineffective system that benefits the landlords. It's almost a year before the L&I Department can take any actions on the landlords when they're in violation of the codes."
Councilwoman Linda Gray also supported the measure, and said her time as a magistrate judge showed that the old criminal system was inadequate.
"As a judge, I saw repeatedly where people refused to make necessary repairs, and the process started all over again. The criminal method did not give the results that we were looking for. It did make the landlords repair the properties, it just fined them."
Councilwoman Shané Darby joined Rysheema Dixon and Council President Trippi Congo in opposing the 10-3 vote, saying she doesn't think fines are effective.
"Look at similar cities like Detroit who did the same exact thing, implementing fees and fines to try to get landlords to be compliant. It only ended up getting to 11%. Fees and fines to not make people comply."
She also cited a concern that the changes could be done for the wrong reasons.
"It's a potential for a land-grab, it is a potential for gentrification based off the implications and impact of this legislation in the long run."
Before the vote, Cabrera pointed out to Darby that there are no new rules being applied, just how they will be enforced.
In addition, this is just a fraction of what has been put into previous bills dealing with blight in the city.
"Owner-occupied properties will continue to be subject to the criminal enforcement proceedings, and this does not address that. It also does not address the vacancies."
Darby did introduce a bill Thursday that would attack the estimated 7,000 rental units in Wilmington where the landlord has not registered in the city.
That would implement a $500 fine on those rental owners, with a $10 per day fee if there is no response within 10 days of the initial notice.
Darby also introduced a bill seeking to require names of people associated with estates, trusts, partnerships, or other unincorporated associations on applications to operate a rental property in Wilmington.