The city of Durham receives 5,000 complaints every year about substandard housing, and 99 percent of them relate to rental properties.
City leaders are looking at mandatory inspections as a way to get some landlords to clean up their act. It appears to be a big project, however. There is no shortage of targets.
Constance Stancil, director of the Department of Neighborhood Improvement Services, says she can point to hundreds of substandard houses in Durham. Her department was created in August.
“We need to have a systematic way of getting on top of the blighted areas,” Stancil says.
Currently, city inspectors only check to see if a house is up to code if a tenant or neighbor calls with a concern. That is not working, Stancil says.
“Especially low-income people and Hispanics who don't want to upset their landlord—they're not calling us and they're continuing to live in substandard housing,” Stancil says.
The city is now considering a system-wide inspection program of all rental properties.
Some people say that idea doesn't add up, however. Durham has 50,000 rental properties and 11 inspectors.>
Colin Crossman and his wife have a few rental properties. They say they do not think the city can get the inspections done, but they have a larger issue.
“I think this is a horrible infringement to our right to privacy,” Colin Crossman says.
Stancil responds, “We have our legal team looking into that.”
Leslie Page of the Durham Regional Association of Realtors said, “We believe this program will create unnecessary bureaucracy, and it's going to take assets away from the other programs that could more effectively address the problems of substandard housing.”
The city hopes to phase in the plan over five years. The plan is to begin with rental properties in so-called problem areas and spread out from there. Houses, apartments and duplexes less than 10 years old will be exempt from the first round of inspections.
City leaders say they would have to hire at least three more inspectors and other staff to help out with the extra workload. The proposal will likely be presented to the City Council in March.