Town to consider rental rules

FRONT ROYAL – Town officials might consider new rules aimed at keeping rental properties up to snuff.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Wednesday to collect input on the possible adoption of a property maintenance code and rental inspection district. The commission plans to consider the public input before drafting a code amendment or making a recommendation to Town Council.

The regulations as proposed would address blight and deteriorating buildings as well as to protect the public health, safety and welfare, town officials have said.

Outspoken residents and business owners have criticized the state of rental properties around town. Some council members, in turn, criticize the town’s lack of authority to go after owners who let properties fall into disrepair except in extreme circumstances.

Department of Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp explained Monday that the proposed rules would set up minimum standards owners must meet to rent a property. The rules would only apply to rental dwelling units.

Town officials are considering a rental inspection program that would focus on these properties in the downtown area, Camp said.

“So we’re primarily looking at kind of keeping the program small,” Camp said. “I mean we could adopt it for everybody but we’re looking at structuring it in a fashion that focuses on the main issues we identified in the work sessions … dilapidated structures and poor rental units in the town in a poor state of repair.”

The director noted that enforcement likely could pose a challenge for the town, especially when dealing with an owner who resists the requirement to come into compliance with the regulations. The town can also seek court action against owners who do not comply with the rules, Camp added.

Adoption of a rental inspection district would allow the town to enforce regulations in the Virginia Building Code, including the Virginia Maintenance Code. Regulations would apply to all rental properties within the designation inspection district, matching the boundaries of the Historic District. Regulations would not apply to rental units located outside the inspected district though Town Council could extend the boundaries or add individual properties.

The program would require owners to register rental properties with the town. The program would require initial and periodic inspections to ensure rental properties maintain safe, decent and sanitary living conditions for tenants and other residents living in the proposed inspection district.

Owners issued a certificate-of-occupancy permit or have passed an initial or periodic inspections, without any violations, shall receive an exception so another inspection is not required for four years.

Rentals with more than 10 units shall only have a sampling of units inspected as provided in the state code.

The town may designate its own building inspections department for administration and enforcement, or another local government agency to perform the required duties.

Sections 104, 105 and 106 of the Virginia Maintenance Code may also be considered for all structures in the town that are unsafe.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com