Front Royal Town Attorney Doug Napier says suggested alternatives to a property maintenance code designed to hold residential landlords accountable for the condition of their properties are legally unfounded.
At a September 25 public hearing Napier did not attend due to a scheduled vacation, local landlord and attorney David Silek suggested alternative methods of enforcement. Those included a town-wide inspection district and prosecution of so-called “slumlords” under public nuisance statutes.
Silek questioned the legality of primary enforcement in a specified district, rather than town wide. As Royal Examiner has reported, the proposed Rental Inspection District extends from one block south of Prospect Street at the 300 block of South Royal Avenue to 2nd Street at Virginia Avenue to the north; and Water Street to the east and Luray Avenue and several nearby alleyways to the west.
Inside the new district the Town could initiate inspections. And while inspections could also be initiated on a request or complaint basis throughout town, it has been pointed out during work session discussion that, that may not be an effective policy. That is because of tenant fears that reporting abuses could lead retribution by the landlord and eviction.
However, specified enforcement districts are required by State law, Napier says. And he believes citizen complaints about specific properties fall under private nuisance statutes that must be prosecuted in civil court by the complainant. That is a legal protection without real teeth, Napier observed, since renters in such situations rarely have the financial resources to pursue personally-financed civil litigation.
Municipal prosecution under public nuisance or public health statutes must involve a nuisance or health hazard that threatens a larger swath of the population than one apartment or even one building, Napier said of his reading of state guidelines.
Contacted on Oct. 4, Napier said he was preparing a memo to council indicating his legal position that the draft Property Maintenance Ordinance or a close approximation of it and its Rental Inspection District is, in fact, the Town’s best legal path forward on renter protections.