Among members of the Greensboro City Council, viewpoints are mixed on the city’s proactive housing inspection program, which would be eliminated if legislation [1, 2] filed in both houses of the NC General Assembly proves successful.
Council members discussed the Rental Unit Certificate of Occupation, or RUCO program during a briefing yesterday. At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, who serves on RUCO Advisory Board, said the board narrowly defeated a motion to recommend that the city express official opposition to the legislation. The RUCO board has traditionally been stacked with people associated with the real estate industry, who have made no secret of their desire to eliminate the program. Members of the board are appointed by council members, who are, in turn, generously supported in their election campaigns by people employed in the real estate industry.
Perkins was on the losing side of the vote.
The RUCO program requires that all residential housing pass inspection and receive a certificate of occupation before being rented and provides for proactive inspections through random sampling. Prior to the program’s implementation in the middle part of the last decade, Greensboro, like many other cities across the state, had a complaint-driven system that also allowed for inspections based on probable cause if city employees saw evidence of code violations on the outside of the property.
“It has been one huge success,” said Willena Cannon, healthy homes organizer at the Greensboro Housing Coalition. “People around the city of Greensboro, like in Durham and different places, say how different Greensboro looks. There have been doctors and nurses that sent people to us with a written request that we move people out of substandard housing because of things like roaches and asthma. That has been lessened. People fix up their stuff because they know they can’t run ’em if they don’t.”
Mayor Bill Knight said he holds landlords in high esteem.
“My whole working career has been here in Greensboro, and I’ve worked for a lot of property owners,” said Knight, who is an accountant by profession. “The problem, if you look at the landlord population, is there’s a few notorious examples, and I just want to say that the landlords do a great job in Greensboro as a body.”
Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small, who represents District 1 in east Greensboro, said the city should consider the needs of tenants, too.
“I actually know of a lady who came to me,” Bellamy-Small said. “She could barely afford the rent. And she had gotten into a place and she was concerned about some things in the house. She came to me and she said, ‘Do I have any rights? What can I do?’ I said, ‘Do you have your RUCO?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ We asked the landlord and the landlord started backing up because there wasn’t one. So we called code enforcement. They didn’t put the woman out, but they had the landlord correct some things that would have impaired this lady’s quality of life.”
Councilman Zack Matheny, who represents District 3, echoed a line of argument often made by members the real estate industry — that most of the problems are found with a small number of unscrupulous landlords and the city should focus its regulatory resources on them.
“Now, we’re at a place where RUCO, in my opinion, probably needs to be reevaluated as we reevaluate constantly anyway,” he said. “And I’m not saying in any case what we need to do with this bill today, but I think we need to look at RUCO from a standpoint of what we do going forward.”
Perkins noted that the city spent six to eight months reevaluating the program last year. Ultimately, no changes were made.
Councilwoman Trudy Wade, who represents District 5, suggested the elimination of the program would not be a significant loss.
“Let’s say the bill passes and RUCO doesn’t exist,” she said, directing her question to City Manager Rashad Young. “The tenant can still pick up the phone and call and say, ‘There’s a problem. Is that correct?’”
The question was mainly rhetorical because everyone knew the answer.
“Yes,” Young responded.
“The goal is to have safe housing in Greensboro,” Perkins said. “I think we can achieve that goal and we need to be vigilant and not allow us to backslide based on lightening up on this thing because then it’s going to cost the city huge amounts of money to come back and repair the damage.
“I hate to see the state legislature come in because a state senator in Raleigh is upset about a $15 charge per year on rental housing,” he added.