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Mayor Purzycki and Council Member Freel Propose a New and Revised Housing Code Ordinance

May 2, 2019

The neighborhood stabilization legislation would set annual rental inspection goals; reinforce that inspections are a requirement to obtain a rental business license; establish civil versus criminal code enforcement of vacant and rental properties; and amend the vacant property registration fee provisions

New legislation that would amend Wilmington’s housing code to produce stronger, more stabilized neighborhoods for homeowners and improved living conditions for renters will be introduced tonight before Wilmington City Council. Mayor Mike Purzycki and 8th District Council Member Charles “Bud” Freel say they have taken into consideration many Council and citizen comments and concerns about the previously stalled anti-blight legislation in crafting the new ordinance.

8th District Council Member Charles M. “Bud” Freel takes notes in the midst of the water-sewer fund presentation during Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Hearings Weds, May. 01, 2019, at Louis L. Redding City County Building in Wilmington, DE. Photo By Saquan Stimpson

While there are new and revised elements to the newly-introduced housing code ordinance, the Mayor and Council Member say it 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 fairly and more quickly. Unlike previous versions of the legislation, however, and at the request of Council Members, homeowners are excluded from the civil enforcement process. Mayor Purzycki and Council Member Freel said the new proposal includes amendments made to previous versions of the legislation that were not met with objections.

FILE PHOTO: Mayor Mike Purzycki gives his 2020 fiscal year budget address during prior to a regular City Council meeting Thursday, March. 28, 2019, at Louis L. Redding City County Building in Wilmington DE. Photo By Saquan Stimpson

The new ordinance to amend Chapters 4, 5 and 34 of the City Code would:

•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.

After the new legislation is introduced tonight, it will be assigned to the Council Finance Committee for review before moving to a final vote by Council.