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The Daily Tar Heel

Licensing System Awaits Official Town Approval

Licensing System Awaits Official Town Approval

Rental licensing would require all operators and owners to obtain a license and would make landlords more accountable to their tenants in hopes of improving communication.

"It's kind of like a driver's license," task force member Lee Conner said. "If you don't have one, you can't do it."

The Chapel Hill Town Council established a rental licensing task force in June 2000 to provide recommendations for whether the town should establish a rental licensing system, and, if so, what form the system would take.

After five meetings, the task force decided Chapel Hill does need a rental licensing system. So it came up with a plan and presented it to the Town Council on March 26.

But task force member Bill Strom, who is also a Town Council member, said it is not surprising that the rental licensing proposal will take awhile to be approved.

"It's sort of a second-tier issue right now," he said, emphasizing that the Town Council is looking at several other major issues right now, such as UNC's Master Plan.

"It would be quite an accomplishment for this to go into effect this calendar year."

This means that students will not benefit from the plan this year. But the plan, if approved by the Town Council, should go into effect by 2002, Strom said.

"I'd be disappointed if by this point next year, the database (that is proposed in the plan) wasn't accessible."

The two databases are an important element to the proposed licensing system.

They would be easily accessible to the public via the town's Web site or at the Chapel Hill Public Library or Town Hall.

"(The databases) promote accessibility and accountability of landlords," Conner said.

The first database would include contact information for all landlords in Chapel Hill.

"It makes sure you and your neighbors can contact the landlord," Conner said.

The database will ensure that if people have a complaint about their neighbors, they will know how to contact their neighbor's landlord, something that cannot now be done very easily.

But town staff members said they are exploring different financial options before making any recommendations to the council.

"We're looking at what the cost to the town will be for things like creating the database," said Loryn Barnes, the town's community department coordinator.

Conner, a UNC law student, has been involved with the plan since its inception.

He said he thinks increasing landlord involvement with renters might help mend the shaky relationship between students and their neighbors.

"The police are only in power to do so much," Conner said.

"The best way for the problem to be solved is for the landlord to sit down with the tenant."

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Strom said the second database will include the properties that, upon examination by the building inspector, do not meet the town's Minimum Housing Code.

"We did receive evidence that a large number of people are currently not under the housing code," Strom said.

Once the building inspector verifies the landlord is not in compliance, the complaint will go into the database.

This will show potential renters which places are following the housing code and which are not, Conner said.

But nothing new would be made available to the public, Conner said. Information would just be more accessible.

Housing code violations are currently public information, available at Town Hall.

"But for all practical purposes, the information is inaccessible," Conner said. "They're in file cabinets, and it would take forever to find the information you were looking for. We want to get it out of the file cabinet and somewhere people could use it."

The task force also recommended that landlords be required to distribute a "rental duties" information sheet to their tenants.

The sheet would be provided by Chapel Hill and would spell out exactly what tenants are expected to do.

"We believe pretty strongly in letting renters, who are usually students, know what they're supposed to do," Conner said.

"What we want is better communication and increased accessibility."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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