Franklin council holds hearing on housing inspections, approves $480K to school board conditionally

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On Monday, Franklin City Council held a public hearing on a proposed rental housing inspection ordinance, and also voted 5-2 to conditionally release the $480,000 in capital funding requested by the City of Franklin School Board.

The proposed ordinance, intended to rid the city of slums and absentee landlords, would create a conservation district throughout most of downtown Franklin, and notify all landlords who own property within the district to register their residential units by a set date. Owners would be required to provide information to the city on their tenants and schedule an inspection for all registered residential units to check for building code and health and safety violations within 30 days.

Several landlords spoke out against moving forward with the proposed ordinance during the hearing, and complained that they had only been notified about the ordinance’s existence within the past few hours.

Franklin resident and landlord Bobby Tyler expressed concerns over the city’s already high poverty level and the increasing average age of Franklin’s citizens, arguing that imposing additional costs on both aging tenants and landlords would cause more problems than it would fix.

“Our poverty level is over 25 percent,” Tyler said. “When I have to write off tens of thousands of dollars in rent, I’m taking issue with the maintenance program that already exists. Our (average) age continues to go up, and with age comes fixed income. In 2010, 30.23 percent of citizens were 55 and older. Our population has flatlined. We have had an increase of 18 to 19 percent only because of annexation.”

Thomas Councill echoed Tyler’s concerns about the ordinance causing more problems than it would fix, stating, “There’s a 9.75 rental vacancy rate and we’re higher than the state average. This plan will probably increase the vacancy rate. From my research I couldn’t find where you did an impact study, but it would be good to look at this because we don’t want to end up like Petersburg with lots of buildings all boarded up.”

Frank Jester, another Franklin landlord, asked council why more landlords were not included in the initial drafting of the ordinance.

“My family and I all own property in the city of Franklin,” Jester said. “[The agenda] says the city managers have been through months of discussion on this topic. I want to know if any landlords were involved in those discussions. It seems to me that if the system is working OK, leave it as it is. If the tenant complains, then deal with it.”

Councilor Greg McLemore of Ward Three argued that the problem the ordinance is aimed at fixing may not exist.

“I am in favor of protecting our citizens from slum lords. but I don’t see any slum lords in the audience tonight,” he said.

But Councilor Mary Hilliard of Ward Five countered, saying, “There are citizens who are complaining to their council members who are afraid of retaliation [from their landlords.]”

Following the closing of the hearing, the council discussed two items of old business: mentioning that a writ of special election had been sent out via email with May 2, 2017, as the specified date for the election, and the Franklin School Board’s request for $480,000 in funding for 2017.

Councilor Linwood W. Johnson III of Ward Four made a motion to authorize the city manager to release the requested amount once the school board has met the council’s four criteria specified in its previous meeting on Sept. 12, and produces a document signed by both the school board and city council acknowledging the requirements of said criteria. The motion passed 5-2. Council members Greg McLemore and Mary Hilliard voted in opposition.

The council also discussed the impending closing of the landfill in Isle of Wight County, a review of the current bylaws of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, and a brief discussion of requiring newly trained deputies at Western Tidewater Jail to work a certain number of years at the jail so that the municipalities can recoup the cost of training.

The council concluded by going into closed session to discuss legal matters with the city attorney.