MEDIA RELEASE: Landlord-tenant bill will promote safer homes for renters across North Carolina

Landlord-tenant bill will promote safer homes for renters across North Carolina
For the first time, North Carolina renters will have comprehensive minimum safety standards for the homes they live in

RALEIGH (July 1, 2009) -- People living in the nearly 1 million rental units across North Carolina can breathe easier about access to safe housing. A new bill headed to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk for signature will protect renters against unsafe conditions in apartments and rental homes throughout the state.

"With more and more families moving to rental situations due to foreclosures, these basic protections are critically important now," said Bill Rowe, general counsel with the NC Justice Center, a non-profit organization that backed the legislation. "This bill represents a real step forward for North Carolina's landlord-tenant laws."

The minimum standards put in place by the bill, SB 661, require rentals to have safe wiring, flooring, roofs, and chimneys; access to water; operable locks; operable toilets; sources of heat; no rat infestation due to defects in the building; and no flooding problems.

"This bill sets us toward a path of improving housing stock throughout our state," said Rev. Melvin Whitley, Chair of Northeast Central Durham ACORN, which lobbied for the bill's passage. "For the first time we have a law that sets a minimum housing code for all rental housing, sets a limit of rental fees, and protects the renter from eviction when they complain about housing code violations."

 The bill, which was supported by tenant advocacy groups as well as the state's largest landlord organization, passed the Senate by a vote of 46-1. Sen. Daniel Clodfelter was the primary sponsor.

North Carolina law regarding housing codes requires that landlords receive a notice from the inspection department when housing code violations are found. SB 661 specifies that this notice sent to landlords regarding housing code violations should tell the landlord to repair the property unless it will cost too much or there is a significant threat of bodily harm present.

"I believe landlords should be responsible for fixing up these houses," said Candace Davis, a member of ACORN from Durham. "Like with me, the landlord left his property vacant, and when I came, it already had all these problems. I'm glad [the bill] passed that landlords will have to fix up their properties. Otherwise, they just sit there and go to the slums, while the landlord keeps pocketing money and not making any repairs. We don't deserve to live like this, and this bill strengthens our rights as tenants."

Besides basic safety standards, the bill prevents landlords from charging abusive fees. Some bad-apple landlords charge tenants excessive fees ranging into the hundreds of dollars when eviction cases are filed in court. Until now, North Carolina law placed no limit on such fees.

The new law sets up a system for fees a landlord can charge for taking a tenant to court. This will make sure landlords can be compensated fairly, while making sure such fees are not abused.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Jeff Shaw, North Carolina Justice Center, 919.863.2402 (office) 503.551.3615 (mobile); Bill Rowe, NC Justice Center, 919.856.2177; Michael De Los Santos,  Legislative Director,  North Carolina ACORN, 919.866.8953