Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Durham, NH, - Surprise! - Rental Inspections Worked

Durham, NH Where Rental Inspections Worked!
[Note: This article first appeared in NWCitizen]

In 2013 Durham, NH, passed a rental registration and inspection law over the objections of the "rental industry."   Within a year, the results demonstrated the need for inspections by unearthing problems the landlords denied existed, especially among professionally managed units.  In a report issued by the city of Durham only three months after passage of the law we find this:
"The DLA [Durham Landlord Association] has also argued that it is the non-owner occupied, single family rentals managed by non-professional landlords that represent the problem properties in terms of safety concerns in Durham.  The new inspection program does not bear out that contention.  Rental properties of all types have been found deficient in meeting fire/safety standards."
The report also indicated:
"Inspection results have substantiated the long-held concerns of the Town’s Code Enforcement Department, Fire Department, Assessing Office, and some members of the Rental Housing Commission – that many rental properties in town do not meet basic health and safety standards as required by state statute putting young and inexperienced, largely college-aged tenants in harms way."
Two years later, the city website reported this to the citizens of Durham:
"Between 2013 and today, a total of 1,784 inspections [bolding mine] have taken place within off campus rental dwelling units (apartments) by the inspection division at the Durham Fire Department.  The Fire Department staff has found 4,021 violations [bolding mine] to date, of which 3,213 have been addressed by owners.  There are 808 outstanding issues for which re-inspections are required/pending. 
The top five life/safety/health deficiencies include:
    Detection/Alarms (smoke/co)
    Electrical violations
    Separation from hazards
    Fire Protection Systems not being property maintained (fire alarms/sprinklers)

Durham's Housing Standards Ordinance is serving the purpose for which it was intended -- to make living conditions much safer for inexperienced students as well as adult tenants living off campus in the broader community."

That sounds like a successful program in a university city.

As in Bellingham, landlords tried unsuccessfully to fight inspections by creating uncertainty about the legality under the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution that spells out the need for warrants for searches and seizures.  This specious argument has nothing to do with entering dwelling units for safety and health reasons.  In Washington state, landlords already have the right to enter rental units after giving notice. It is ludicrous to posit that a city health and safety inspector operating as an agent of the municipality does not have a similar ability to enter a rental unit with notice.  Washington state law also allows issuing administrative warrants to enter units where a tenant or a landlord has refused access.  Rental inspectors are just not breaking down doors to find a tenant in his skivvies.