The Law of Unintended Consequences and Salisbury, N.C.’s Remedial Action Ordinance

Posted on July 11, 2017

Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney

♦ I went to council tonight and spoke at the public hearing on this ordinance. I ran out of time to complete my comments. The RAP ordinance is designed simply at it’s most basic level to financially force landlords to evict persons from private property the Salisbury Police Department and the City deem to generate too many police calls and complaints. This sounds like a godsend for homeowners owning one house or an apartment or an apartment complex that seems to always be causing problems, right? I left council early to get this letter to the editor up. After hearing Mayor Alexander, Brian Miller and Maggie Blackwell speak, I had no doubt it will be enacted tonight. A copy of this ordinance was posted on RFP yesterday.

My problem is with the Law of Unintended Consequences:

To protect themselves, landlords will be educated to put lease provisions in their leases that allow eviction if the property is declared by the city to be “in need of remedial action.” (INRA) This will create an underclass in Salisbury, tenants who may be evicted for calling 911 or having 911 called upon them if their property is in the INRA plan. The plan will be simplified on the streets to an idea as witnessed in public housing: the police can get you evicted even from private property.

I thought it was our policy to encourage folks to report crimes and cooperate with the police. Like if calling John Law could create an eviction. I suspect FBI Uniform Crime Reports are going to look a whole lot better soon and give the City bragging rights in “decreasing crime” in the city. Of course, that would be false. Crime will be as high or higher than ever, but tenants will just not be calling the police, will start patching up bullet holes and fibbing to police about the site of crimes. “Nah, saw it all, that happened way over there at the corner.” Might a tenant with an INRA lease be tempted to pick up the brass from a shooting in their yard before the police arrive or drag a body into the neighbor’s yard? Has your apartment been placed in the INRA? Are you one point away from being evicted?

It may get even more insidious. What if the Remedial Action Plan given to the landlord by the City requires that he changes his lease to a specific tenant to ban specific individuals from staying in or visiting their rented home? Where might this end?

A council member reported not long ago that around 20% of Salisbury’s dwellings are empty. Lord knows how many of these are abandoned. Is this ordinance going to help with those statistics? Is this likely to make or deter potential investors from buying empty properties, fixing them up and earning rental income? They may not want to come to Salisbury and deal with this plan.

My next concern is that the INRA status is deemed to attach to subsequent purchasers. Real estate closing attorneys will need to tell potential buyers that the prospective property is in this special INRA program that may result in immediate heavy fines. Will this status have a negative affect on values? Might it create more empty dwellings and abandoned homes?

I talked to a single lady with kids a few weeks ago that started out on government housing, obtained an education, and found a decent job and was able to rent a private house that she loves in a neighborhood she deems “acceptable.” She was incensed and told me that she was quite upset and felt the city was trying to use the landlords to impose the old public housing rules on her that she had left behind. She is looking for accommodations outside the city when her lease is up. Will this house be added to the rolls of the empty and abandoned?

I fear the Remedial Action Plan Ordinance will eventually cause more problems than it solves. Of course, I am not always right, but I have a pretty good batting average when it comes to things in this city.

A Landlords Worst Nightmare: Salisbury’s Residential Remedial Action Plan Complete and Unabridged:

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