Council puts off action on rental property program

FRONT ROYAL – Renters hoping the Town Council takes action against so-called slumlords must wait a little longer for help.

The council heard and eventually accepted arguments Monday from property managers and owners who urged members to reconsider proposed regulations targeting landlords who let their buildings fall into disrepair or suffer from bed bugs and other infestations.

The council voted 6-0 to delay action on a proposed property maintenance program and rental inspection district after about a dozen people spoke during the public hearing on the matter.

Most speakers told council about their living conditions and the lack of action by their landlords. Renters spoke of infestations of bed bugs and roaches, crumbling walls and health hazards as well as landlords engaging in questionable, potentially illegal activity. However, several speakers who said they also rent properties in town voiced concern that the proposed regulations would unfairly burden the landlords and managers who maintain their buildings. Attorney David Silek threatened the council with legal action if the town unfairly targeted one of his tenants or any other resident under the proposed regulations. Silek said the town could go after individual properties and owners under the nuisance ordinance already on the books.

Councilman Chris Morrison first made a motion to adopt on its first reading a set of changes to town code that would establish property maintenance regulations and a rental inspection district. Morrison said residents should not have to live under such conditions.

But before members could vote on Morrison’s motion, Councilman John Connolly sought to delay action, citing comments made by speakers during the hearing. Connolly said the council should discuss the proposed regulations further.

Some people who spoke against the proposed regulations cited problems the town and property owners experienced under a program that Front Royal eventually ended. The earlier program suffered from unequal enforcement by the town official in charge, speakers claimed.