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Town to consider rental inspection program

Front Royal could soon put rental properties and their owners under tighter scrutiny.

The Planning Commission holds a public hearing tonight on a proposed ordinance intended to set up a rental-inspection program that would give the town more power over the condition of such properties.

The proposed area of focus for the program is currently on the downtown historic district, Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said Tuesday. The commission and Town Council can expand the rental-inspection district by extending its boundaries as well as by adding properties that lie outside the area, Camp explained. The district also focuses on an area considered for revitalization, he noted.

“It’s also thought of as kind of like a pilot study program to see about going ahead and getting this adopted, having it in a smaller, manageable area, that it’s the most critical area and see how it works,” Camp said. “As we develop the program, we can consider expanding it if there’s a need.”

The draft of the ordinance calls for inspections of rental properties in the designated district. Properties that pass inspection do not require another inspection for four years. That contrasts with requiring inspections each time a tenant begins to rent a property. These requirements are based on state code, Camp said. The regulations should be less stringent on landlords as far as the frequency of inspections though they will be required to adhere to maintenance codes, Camp added.

The Planning and Zoning Department and the commission have worked for months on the ordinance with the Warren County Building Inspections Department. Officials looked at information provided by the state as well as other jurisdictions such as Culpeper and Winchester that oversee rental-inspection districts.

“Ours is a little bit unique in that, here, the county handles the building permits so we couldn’t find an exact example of a locality where a property maintenance code would be managed by the town but then the county would do the building permits,” Camp said. “The way the code is drafted it really would be up to council what direction they would go if they wanted to adopt the code as far as administering it.

“They would have to determine if they would want this outsourced and have the county do it as part of an agreement with the county or hire an additional staff member or two with the town to administer it as a town employee,” Camp added. “In any respect, it would require additional staffing for any of the options.”

The district as proposed contains approximately 300 rental units, though the town doesn’t have a precise number, Camp said. Officials looked at that number when considering the workload such a district might create, Camp added.

The commission held a public input meeting on the concept of rental inspections earlier this year that drew mostly a positive response.

The proposed ordinance also incorporates the statewide property maintenance code for the town. The adoption of this code would not require a great deal of staff time, Camp said. Rather, the town would respond only to complaints and limit inspections to the exterior of buildings and properties, Camp added. This part of the ordinance would apply to properties town wide.

The town had a rental inspection program in the past but was ultimately repealed after it attracted legal challenges. At the time it was thought that the local program didn’t follow the state regulations, Camp said.

On The Net

PDF: Draft map of proposed downtown rental inspection district

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