DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Some people in the community are pushing for Durham City Council to pass a Tenants’ Bill of Rights that would better protect renters from being forced to stay in unlivable conditions.
The group, Bull City Tenants United, put together a proposal that includes a list of 13 recommendations geared toward protecting tenants’ rights.
For instance, the group is calling on the city to require mandatory inspections, timely repairs, and to prohibit landlords from being able to collect rent if there is a housing code violation.
However, Durham’s city attorney found most of the group’s recommendations are not within the city’s authority to enforce.
During Thursday afternoon’s city council work session, council members discussed how the city of Charlotte was able to pass an ordinance that prevents landlords from collecting rent if the “place of habitation is imminently dangerous to the health and safety of the tenant.”
City councilors said this proposal will be sent back to staff to look into how Charlotte was able to pass this, and they will see if Durham can do something similar.
The proposal also calls on the city to expand its minimum housing code and to require mold testing, carpet maintenance, and programmable thermostats. However, the attorney’s analysis shows that the city does not have the authority to require programmable thermostats under the housing code.
As for the mold, the city attorney’s office said the city is limited on how they can address “mold” specifically.
Sofia Hernandez with the city attorney’s office said they can address “moisture,” but that there are no state or federal regulations that set up standards and training on how to test for mold.
Members of Bull City Tenants United and concerned citizens spoke during public comment and urged city councilors to still do what they can to better protect tenants in Durham.
“You need to beef up your inspections office,” said Stella Adams, a resident of Durham.
After further discussion, city councilors said there are some things they can legally do as they said they can expand the city’s inspection hours to nights and weekends, provide an interpreter for tenants that don’t speak English, and allow tenants to anonymously report issues.
But council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said the council needs to make sure they have the resources to move forward with this.
“If we pass the ordinance, we have to have the people to deal with the complaints that are raised under that ordinance,” Middleton said.
Virginia Lucke recently moved from 519 East Main, a public housing complex in Durham where a backed-up trash chute led to a maggot infestation at the complex.
She said it took a while for the Durham Housing Authority to address the problem.
“I mean it took weeks, not days,” Lucke said.
Lucke moved to a different public housing property, and she said she is hoping city council will not only pass a Tenants’ Bill of Rights but that the city will be able to enforce it once it passed.
“These people need to care,” Lucke said. “I hope that they could get something done.”
The proposal will be sent back to staff so they can look further at what they can do. No word on when it will be brought back before council again for a vote.
A Durham city spokesperson said the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Services Department has worked on 967 housing cases this year and they said the city does not have a back log in responding to requests to inspect homes.
If a tenant wants their home inspected, they can contact Durham One Call to request an inspection for minimum housing code violations.