Williamston to begin enforcing rental housing ordinance

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By David Meade
Landlords who have problem renters are being put on notice that they could jeopardize their ability to collect rent in the Town of Williamston if they don’t do a better job of vetting their renters.
The Town of Williamston will begin enforcing an ordinance for rental housing regulations that requires landlords to obtain a $10 permit from the town each year.
The ordinance, which was approved almost a year ago, provides for a three strike law enforcement response violation in which the rental permit can be suspended.
The yearly $10 permit can include multiple properties, and if revoked, will be for all properties being rented in the town by that landlord or property owner.
Williamston Police Chief Tony Taylor said the ordinance is not to punish landlords or just another fee for the town, but is an attempt to address problem areas with repeat offenders and help the community.
“It is a quality of life issue,” Taylor said. “We would love to get the support of landlords and encourage them to do criminal background checks before they rent.”
Taylor said there are certain areas or locations that have a lot of repeat calls resulting in a response from the police department.
Taylor said landlords are not requiring background checks or do not have a policy in place on how they rent certain properties.
The result is repeat offenders returning to the location.
“The police department catches grief about not being effective in the community, but we are doing due diligence,” Taylor said.
As an example, Taylor pointed out one residence in Williamston to which officers have responded 82 times since 2013.
“There have been numerous arrests at that location,” Taylor said. “We have no authority over who lives or rents that rental house. The problem is in the community.”
Taylor said that in a certain community, there have been over forty criminal charges made since 2013. “The majority are people who live in that community.”
According to Taylor, there are certain individuals who have been arrested, found guilty, and when released “have the right to come back to their residence.”
“We are trying to help the community alleviate these type of repeat offenders,” the Chief said. But he adds, “We are not getting the cooperation of landlords to weed out the individuals causing the problems.”
“There are a few landlords who appear to be uncooperative with the community. This is a quality of life issue,” Taylor said.
While the ordinance is designed to encourage landlords and property owners to be more proactive in vetting their renters, he wants them, and the community to understand that the ordinance is not based on number of calls, but on an arrest being made.
Enforcement of the ordinance is based on an arrest being made “on the premises of a certain location that results in a guilty plea or forfeited bond.”
It also is based on three or more offenses within a 365 day period “where the offender is found guilty either by a jury or due process,” Taylor said.
Chief Taylor said his department is attempting to educate the community and to notify landlords and property owners about enforcement of the ordinance.
While there is no problem with most of the landlords in the town, and most have some type of vetting, there are several who do not. “Therefore the community suffers,” Taylor said.
The Williamston Police Department will be working with the town’s codes person to begin enforcing the ordinance.
Under the ordinance, no owner or person will be allowed to operate any residential unit unless that owner holds a current rental permit.
If three or more offenses are committed on the premises of a rental unit during a 365 day period, the rental permit of the owner of the rental property will be revoked.
Taylor said a similar ordinance addressing drug houses has been enforced in the past and has had some success.
The ordinance, which allows confiscation of a property under certain drug violations, has been used two or three times, and after the owners were notified of a problem, resulted in an eviction,” he said.
Town officials are hoping the new rental housing regulations ordinance will also encourage landlords to be more supportive of the communities in which they rent.
Taylor said the police department will work with any landlord to assist them in getting a vetting process established.
“If a landlord rents a house in that community, why not be accountable to the community,” Taylor said.
When the ordinance was originally passed, Williamston Mayor Mack Durham said the intent of the ordinance was not to punish anyone, but “to try and add quality of life to our community.”