City inspects rentals

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November 6, 2007

2:00 AM

__Rental Inspection Program allows city to inspect rental houses in blighted areas every time occupants change__

A 2002 report from Williamsburg Planning Director Reed Nester identified four zones that were deemed blighted based on the number of registered complaints, proximity to the College and on the neighborhoods’ “history of residential structures that lack facilities that provide minimum levels of health, safety and welfare to the occupant, including the dilapidation of buildings and other structures.”

p. The report identifies two of the zones, along Richmond and Jamestown roads, as providing “housing to a substantial number of College students.” According to Sharpe program data cited in the report, 62 percent of the off-campus student population lived in the zones at the time.

p. Rental units within the zones are subject to inspection once every four years and upon change of occupants. Code violations often result in more frequent inspections. The city and state both cite the health and safety of residents as the primary reason for rental and housing inspections.

p. According to former City Councilman Billy Scruggs, the creation of the conservation zones stemmed from a handful of tenants “believed to be students, who were being a nuisance.”

p. Scruggs described the city’s response as “one-size-fits-all.” He said he can see why students believe they are being alienated by the city.

p. He said that the city and its residents’ concern regarding property values may play a role in the city’s stringent code enforcement.

p. Jenna Casebolt ’08 and Kelly Flanagan ’08, whose home was cited for code violations last year for having debris in their backyard, agree with Scruggs’ assessment.

p. “I can understand the city’s position on trying to keep the city tidy,” Casebolt said. “But when it’s out of sight and not a hazard … I don’t understand.”

p. Mayor Jeanne Zeidler defended the conservation zones and rental inspections. She said the zones were selected based on their respective histories of high numbers of property maintenance cases.

p. She cited incidences at other college campuses, where student renters died in fires or from carbon monoxide poisoning due to poor conditions in their rental homes.

p. Zeidler mentioned a case in Williamsburg where an inspection revealed a gas leak that had gone undetected as an example of the program’s importance to public safety.

p. “We want these houses to be safe and healthy,” Zeidler said. “These inspections apply equally to student renters and others who rent in the [conservation] zones.”

p. City landlord Gary Shelly ’72 called the current program a “travesty.”

p. Shelly said that the city used the Rental Inspection Program as a tool to find student violations of the three-person rule. Shelly added that the city requirements that call for an inspection every time a house changes tenants are excessive.

p. Stanley Skinner, the new codes compliance administrator, said as long as there are no complaints of infractions, there won’t be any problems for renters.

p. James Banton, an inspector for the city, said some of the more common infractions were peeling paint, broken windows and gutter problems.

p. Flanagan and Casebolt said that although they had done their best to keep their yard neat, they were still cited by the city for blight conditions.

p. “It’s an older property,” Casebolt said. “And we couldn’t afford to get gardeners or contractors.”

p. Zeidler defended the regulations.

p. “Chipped paint is aesthetic, but it allows moisture to get into the building, which leads to mold,” Zeidler said. “Also, children can eat the paint chips. So it all really falls under health and safety.”

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