on the state’s minimum housing standards law, and that the minimum housing standards law, which provides the enacting authority for RUCO, “can be enforced.”
Peeples wrote that despite the amendment to the building inspections law, the minimum housing standards law “presumably remains in force.” He also noted that the statute amended by the General Assembly refers to “building inspectors” while the statute that provides the enabling authority for RUCO refers to “public officers.”
“When a law gets changed, you have to pay attention to what it does and does not say,” Peeples said in an interview. “You do have to comply with the law, but it’s legitimate to question its scope. Based on my reading of that amendment, Greensboro’s RUCO ordinance is still enforceable. I think this is a very conservative position that I’m taking. We should interpret the law as it’s written. I’m not trying to expand anything. I’m trying to say the law is what it says it is.”
Peeples said he believes the city of Greensboro has a number of options open to it if it wishes retain its authority under minimum housing-standards law, including pursuing a test case in superior court and redrafting the local ordinance so that its language steers clear of the new law passed by the General Assembly.
Since the congress received the letter, Pendergraft has tried to interest the city’s planning and community development director and has attempted to elicit a response from city council candidates.
“We haven’t been sitting on the WFU professor’s opinion,” Pendergraft said. “On the other hand, we have not been pushing it. We’ve been waiting for reactions. There have been few.”
Asked if they would vote to continue to enforce RUCO, even if it were challenged in court, some candidates either expressed opposition to the program or dodged the question during a forum last month.
“I think there’s one thing that we do have in Greensboro, and that’s 99.9 percent responsible people who want to supply safe housing and affordable housing,” said Mary Rakestraw, the incumbent candidate for the District 4 seat. “That’s very important. But if we’re going to just inspect the same houses over and over again, that’s not efficient and that’s not effective. What we do need is to have our people [address violations] on a complaint basis.”
‘My first reaction when I heard about this was: Why do you take this lying down?’ said Wake Forest University law professor Ralph Peeples
Nancy Hoffmann, the challenger in the race, said RUCO had been successful and had improved the city’s housing inventory, but she appreciated that landlords might have a different perspective.
Jim Kee and Zack Matheny, respectively the incumbents in districts 2 and 3 — both heavily favored to win their races — echoed Rakestraw’s criticism that city staff is inspecting the same properties over and over again. Jay Ovittore, the challenger in District 3, said he was unfamiliar with Peeple’s legal opinion, but added, “I wish we could still enforce RUCO.”
In a mayoral debate last month, incumbent Bill Knight argued that inspectors have uncovered relatively few violations through proactive inspections.
“Our landlords do a great job,” he said.
“They are business people. They go about their business, and they take care of their properties, the bulk of them. And I support them wholeheartedly in their efforts there. The problems that do occur can be dealt with. And I think the new legislation, hopefully, can do that.”
Robbie Perkins, the challenger in the race, said, “It’s hard to cry over spilt milk. If the state legislature decides they’re going to put a program out of business, then they’ve got the authority to do that. I think the question is, where do we go from here?” Perkins proposed reducing the territory for which each inspector is responsible, along with increasing fines for repeat offenders and escalating them with each successive violation so that even without a proactive inspection program, the city can still maintain quality rental housing stock.
“From living in Greensboro for 20 years, it didn’t surprise me that there was a program like RUCO,” Peeples said. “I always thought of that as something that set Greensboro apart from other cities in North Carolina — evidence of Greensboro doing more than the minimum. To see RUCO gutted — nah, I didn’t like that.”
Peeples and Mulligan both acknowledged that lawyers are in the business of disagreeing with each other.
“Professor Peeples’ letter is a nicely articulated argument for that assertion that public officers are different and not subject to the new rental inspection law,” Mulligan said. “My blog post essentially raises the concerns about that position. And we don’t know the answer to that, and won’t unless it’s litigated.”