Council narrowly approved the ordinance requiring inspections

A new Townsend ordinance requires rental units be licensed and inspected in town limits.

Council approved the ordinance by a 3-2 vote April 4 after some opposition from landlords.

The ordinance is effective Jan. 1, 2019, giving town officials time to decide on fees for the inspections and the landlord licenses.

After the meeting, Councilwoman Lorraine Gorman described the next step. She introduced the ordinance and has taken it upon herself to help implement it.

The most important step is to get the word out about the rental ordinance requirements, she said in an email.

“Communication will be key, so I will be developing a plan that contains multiple notifications that will inform our residents of the ordinance, afford them the opportunity to ask questions, and provide landlords with sufficient time to submit required documentation,” she said.

“Before the first communication goes out, however, I need to finalize all of the forms that will be associated with the ordinance,” she said.

During the council meeting, Gorman announced the fees paid by the landlord. The annual license fee will be $50 a rental unit. If there’s more than one rental unit, the $50 fee is applied plus $10 for each additional unit.

The rental units would be inspected by the town inspector each time the tenants change. Inspection for a rental unit would be between $50 and $75 for a single-family home rental unit.

When deciding on the ordinance last week, council members debated the issue with the public and among themselves for an hour.

When the issue came to a vote, Gorman and council member Cindy Cook voted in favor of the ordinance and council members Jermaine Hatton and Steve High voted against it, creating a tie vote.

Mayor Rudy Sutton Jr. broke the tie and voted in favor of it, allowing the ordinance’s passage.

“With this ordinance, I would like to see the fee reduced when the fees come to the table. I think the ordinance is a win for the town,” Sutton said.

He also said, “I have a lot of respect for our landlords in the town of Townsend because, first of all, they are the ones that purchase the properties that need work. So, I’m grateful for that…But I’m glad that we have this [ordinance] in place for the safety of our residents.”

High questioned a part of ordinance which says criminal activity by a tenant is grounds for eviction.

“Where does that individual go? What do we do with that individual? Just kick them out into the street?” he said.

Rep. Quinton Johnson (D-Middletown) attended the council meeting and voiced his objections to the ordinance.

“We don’t know what this ordinance will cost the town,” Johnson said.

Town officials haven’t determined how many rental units there are in Townsend that would fall under the ordinance.

Also, a majority of towns in Delaware don’t have such an ordinance, Johnson said. Townsend’s rental ordinance also adds another layer of government since the county will inspect homes for safety issues, he said.