Proposed changes to Durham housing rules seek to address unsafe conditions due to hoarding and vegetation growing on roofs. The proposed changes also require a minimum storage area, be it closet or armoire, of at least 20 cubic feet.
On Tuesday the City Council will hold a public hearing and possible vote on the changes at its 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza in downtown.
The changes come as the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Services, which enforces housing codes, along with the removal of trash, undergrowth, and abandoned cars and hazardous materials, continues to examine ways to clarify, align with state statutes and improve regulations relating to quality of life issues, said Faith Gardner, housing code administrator.
The changes are based on the staff’s experiences, code-enforcement requests, a recent survey and neighborhood groups’ feedback, she said.
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City officials also worked with the National Center for Healthy Housing to compare Durham’s code to a national standard.
“We are suggesting code modifications today in many of the areas that they suggested where we were weak or areas that were actually absent in our current housing code,” Gardner said at a recent City Council meeting.
Some of the proposed changes include:
▪ Keeping roofs free of vegetation that damages the integrity of the home’s materials and crawlspaces free of excessive moisture.
▪ Making sure all windows sashes have a lock.
▪ Prohibiting doors or windows to be boarded with plywood or other opaque materials unless authorized by the city administrator. The city has been able to cite homeowners who boarded homes in the past, but it has been for other violations, such as light, ventilation and egress violations already in the code.
“We just want to be more direct about what we are citing property owners for,” Gardner said.
The change also calls for the city’s housing code administrator to establish a policy that defines what materials can be used to secure a vacant home.
▪ Having a clear means of egress from all habitable areas of a home and not allowing the accumulation of materials that result in “dangerous, unsafe or hazardous conditions.”
▪ Having smoke detectors in all sleeping areas, and carbon monoxide alarms in both rental and owner-occupied properties where there are gas appliances. Currently, smoke detectors are required for hallways adjacent to sleeping areas.
The change also allows the city manager to reduce or cancel liens on a property if a property is acquired and used for affordable housing.
Some residents expressed concerns about the additional expense of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, Gardner said.
City Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden said she was concerned about seniors who have vegetation on their roof but can’t afford to remove it.
“I think we need to look at our housing rehab money to help fix it,” Cole-McFadden said.
“I think we need to look as a city for that issue across the board,” Gardner said. “And not just seniors, because we have a number of low-wealth individuals who own their own property and who are unable to maintain it to code standards.”