Guest Post by Jon-Dalton George, Boone Town Council:
Still, few in the decision-making process have taken the easiest first steps for renters. North Carolina ranks 49th in “Renter-Friendliness,” a metric composed of ten common features of the landlord-tenant relationship, including security deposits, rent increases, warranty of habitability, and the eviction process. With the current and likely continuing composition of our state's General Assembly, North Carolina's poor ranking seems destined to stay that way. But fair housing isn’t just a fight in Raleigh. Municipalities and counties can, and in some cases have, taken steps to help improve the lives of renters.
Minimum housing codes are a way for local governments to establish guidance for acceptable living conditions. A minimum housing code can be bare-bones, seeking to address only broad structural damage that is obvious in its threat to a renter's safety. Or as nuanced as examining the conditions which give rise to mold and seeking to set a standard for the building's owner. Whatever the case, they provide a tangible guide for renters on what their landlords can and cannot get away with.
With proper funding of inspectors, and a clear, accessibile process for reporting problems, local governments can provide relief to renters seeking aid without needing a lawyer or forcing a tenant into a courtroom.
Looking to the NC General Assembly to fix the substandard housing that plagues our communities is not the solution. It’s time for the local level of government to show creative solutions to the housing problems the state legislature refuses to act on. The town of Boone has passed a minimum housing code, and so has Blowing Rock. Isn't it time that Watauga County also defined minimum housing standards and set guidelines for enforcement?