Two boarded-up Wilmington homes are demolished; partnership addresses blighted properties

A Wilmington landlord association that disagreed with last week's decision by City Council to switch rental code violations from a criminal to civil system is now pushing for improvements in appeals.

Jeff Sheraton, President of the Greater Wilmington Housing Providers joined WDEL's Rick Jensen Show to discuss their disappointment over last week's vote, but also to push for a better review process for L&I inspector's decisions.

"When a police officer pulls you over and issues you a ticket, it's not up to that officer to then have the hearing where you would argue against the ticket and make the determination, you would go before a judge. That's why we really want to see a third party involved in this. Under the civil system, it could be another board, it could be the L&I Review Board, it could also be some other board the city chooses to create."

Under changes to the rental code passed last week, property owners would receive 30 days from the time the city notices a violation for it to be fixed, except for serious, health-related issues, which can be brought down to three days.

If no changes are made, a $250 fine can be issued, but owners have 20 days to appeal, with the ordinance saying "the board of license and inspection review shall hear and decide appeals."

Sheraton continued to tell Jensen that appeals process was a concern.

"Landlords would be given the opportunity to appeal the actual issuance of a violation, saying that maybe it's not their responsibility to complete that item, or maybe the alleged item is already in compliance. Once a fine is issued, there's actually no opportunity to appeal said fine, or even argue prior to the fine being issued."

Sheraton also questioned City Council's argument that a quicker timetable is needed to get things fixed.

"The big push is to save time. The time that it takes from blight to hopefully a renovated, income-producing property for the city. If the city believes the solution to this problem is to speed things up, why haven't they been able to solve this problem in the slower process in the criminal system?"

Brian O'Neil, a former President of GWHP, told Jensen that the fine system could have unintended consequences that could hurt tenants, if the landlord chooses to ignore the fines or repairs.

"It could force a property to sheriff sale. I know that's not the intent, the intent is to get fines fixed, but the remedy, unfortunately, will be, 'hey, if he's not paying, we'll either get paid through sheriff sale or through a bank that will redeem the property.'"

While continuing to disagree with the new law, O'Neil said he would agree that the mayor should create a line item in the budget that would earmark funds from rental code fines directly back into the rental housing system. 

"Relocation expenses for tenants, let's say you have a bad property, the landlord isn't fixing it, the person is displaced, I think that is an admirable use of the money, rather than just going in and fixing streets or other things of that sort."