Raleigh’s Probationary Rental Occupancy Program – The First Five Years
[This article originally appeared in The Raleigh Public Record, a now-defunct, hyperlocal, online news source, in August 2011.]
Repeated loud parties, overgrown grass, junk cars and appliances in the yard along with structural issues like exposed wiring and faulty plumbing are the meat and potatoes of Raleigh’s Probationary Rental Occupancy ordinance. Now in its fifth year, here’s a look back at how PROP got started and how it is being implemented today.
First passed in 2005, after residents and tenants complained repeatedly about “problem properties,” PROP was designed to provide relief. Relief for neighbors when lassez faire landlords did nothing to halt repeated loud parties or allowed tenants’ trash, old appliances and junk cars to collect in their yards. Relief for tenants suffering from unlivable rental unit conditions because of structural issues. And relief for landlords trying to rid themselves of problem tenants and the damage they cause.
The ordinance has changed over the last five years. Most recently, another infraction – criminal activity – was added to the 10 original ways property can become eligible for a PROP permit. At the same time, penalties for the noise violations were beefed up.
According to Housing Inspector Bryce Abernethy, who heads up the program, only 29 properties have had a PROP permit issued since 1995, but 260 have been made eligible at one point or another.
The permit process begins when one of the 11 eligible infractions is confirmed by the housing inspection department or the Raleigh Police Department. Four infractions at the same property in four years make the property eligible for the PROP program. According to Abernethy, the low number of permits issued is because “the ordinance is set up to give property owners more ways to protect themselves from bad tenants.” Writing write compliance with city ordinances into tenant leases is one way. It allows landlords to easily evict unruly tenants before enough infractions stack up so the property enters PROP.
Violations are issued to an address not a person, so evicting tenants does not clear the violation. Raleigh’s PROP website states, “Ultimately, the condition of the rental property and the activities of the tenants must be closely monitored by the property owner. Property owners are expected to write clear expectations of tenant behavior relative to neighbors into leases, and take action to encourage tenants to comply with these expectations or seek evictions for problem tenants.”
Some feel this places an undue burden on property owners. According to Steve Deaton, of Deaton Investment Real Estate, “I just don’t see that any property owner out there is going to see PROP as helpful to them. Many of the violations that can occur are completely out of control of the property owner. They are tenant created and unless the landlord is living there 24-7, he or she can’t possibly control all the actions on the part of their tenant. You can certainly educate them but it doesn’t mean they are going to listen and act accordingly.”
People often confuse rental registration and the PROP permitting program. “PROP is only for problem rental properties and rental registration is for ALL rental properties,” Abernethy explained. If PROP confuses landlords, but Raleigh’s optional landlord training covers many angles, including PROP.
As Abernethy explains, “When it was first introduced a lot of the major landlords, people who own 30+ properties, they started getting rid of properties. Many landlords are scared of PROP and it has made them a lot more proactive in how they manage and handle their properties. I have landlords call me weekly to say ‘A tenant got a noise violation. I don’t want the property to go into PROP, I want to know what to do to avoid that.’ We want property owners to take that proactive approach and PROP helps with that.”
Properties only enter PROP when problems repeatedly occur and the program ensures owners are made aware of violations. Ideally, landlords become aware of problems and move quickly to correct them or ensure they do not recur. If they ignore them, the city can make it illegal for owners to rent their property, although this has yet to happen in PROP’s five year history.
Once in the program, property owners must pay a $200 processing fee and – if found eligible – an annual $300 permit fee that raises to $500 the next year. Fines and civil penalties start at $50 but can reach $500, although the PROP permitting process allows for appeals, especially when good faith corrective actions are taken.
RPR mapped the recent violations and found some neighborhoods net more PROP violations than others. According to Deaton, “I think you will find that owners argue that PROP is not being administered evenly in a geographic manner.”
Tenants may be more easily evicted, but PROP also offers relief from bad living conditions. Anything from bare wiring, holes in the walls and unrepaired broken windows can qualify as a PROP violation, giving landlords greater incentive to maintain properties.
The benefits to neighbors of problem properties seem obvious. According to Abernethy, the most common PROP violations are public nuisance complaints. “They can range from trash in the yard, furniture outside, putting mattresses and appliances outside or storing junk cars.”
The stricter noise violations are making an impact, too. “They can get a $100 ticket. If a property gets three in 24 months, regardless of if the tenants change, they will automatically go into PROP. This is new and so far, two are in the process of going into the program.”
Because PROP violations belong to the address, not the owners or tenants, even if a property is sold, the 24-hour month timeline is not affected. Deaton describe this as “just another disclosure item from a broker standpoint. It’s not something that obvious unless you research it, and I bet very few real estate brokers out there even know what a PROP violation is or what the program is all about.”
When asked about his most unusual case, Abernethy mentioned how a triplex buyer from out of state only found the property had a PROP permit after it was purchased. The buyer later sued the title company. “She won that case.”
PROP is having an impact even although tenants, landlords and even neighbors seem confused about the finer points of the ordinance. To learn more, check out the City of Raleigh’s web page or read the municipal code for yourself.
PROP Eligible Violations
- Re-occupying a dwelling previously found unsafe by Inspections Department.
- Re-occupying a dwelling found unfit for human habitation before compliance has been certified by Inspections Department.
- Third conviction for a nuisance party within 24 months after notification by PROP Team or a third civil penalty for nuisance party after first violation.
- Third conviction for violating Prohibited Noises ordinance in 24 months after first conviction notification or third civil penalty for violation in 24-month period after first violation.
- Failure to repair, vacate and close or demolish any building or structure declared an unsafe building within time given for compliance.
- Failure to repair, vacate and close or demolish any building or structure declared unfit for human habitation within time given for compliance.
- Housing more inhabitants than zoning allows.
- Failure to comply with Inspections Department order regarding unlawful storage of unlicensed, uninspected, wrecked, crushed, dismantled or partially dismantled vehicles on the premises.
- A second nuisance abatement within 24 months. (Nuisances range from appliances in yard to standing water to unmown grass, etc.)
- A fourth notice of violation within a 24 month period, even if the prior notices of violations were resolved by corrective action.
- A third conviction for criminal activity within 24 months of notice given of the first conviction.