Business owners and landlords protest city licensing proposal

By Lynn R. Parks

More than two dozen business owners and landlords crowded into Seaford City Hall Monday night, to protest a proposed business and rental license. "This is bad law," Bruce Pollak told the city council. "It turns landlords into bad guys and is a heavy-handed intrusion into my life and into the lives of my tenants. I don't want to see it happen here." But Councilman Rhea Shannon said that requiring that business owners and landlords have licenses would help protect the town from decay. "Everybody here tonight is a responsible property owner," he said. "The people we want to talk to are the ones who don't show up at these meetings. We are trying to save the town." The city proposed the licensing program at the Oct. 24 city council meeting. Monday night's workshop meeting was scheduled that evening, to allow citizens of the city to express their opinions. At the conclusion of the workshop, Mayor Ed Butler said that it is possible that additional workshops will be held. Tuesday morning, he said that a lot of discussion remains to be had before the proposal comes before city council for a vote. "We will sit down with the operations committee to digest all the comments we heard, and see where we go from there," he said. "I don't know when this will come before the council again." As proposed, the program would require that all business owners and owners of rental property be licensed. The city would be able to make regular inspections of rental properties, to ensure that they are up to code. In his Oct. 24 presentation, city building official Charles Anderson included a suggested fee structure. Under that structure, general business licenses would cost $75. A hotel or motel would pay an additional $10 per room. Warehouses and retailers whose facilities are larger than 10,000 square feet would pay $300. Landlords would pay $50 for each apartment they own, $10 per room if they just rent out rooms. Owners of rented storage units would pay $2 per unit. Non-profit organizations would not be exempt. Fees would be paid every year. A fee structure such as the one Anderson presented would bring about $153,800 per year into the city. Cost to the city of maintaining the program would be about $75,000, he said. City manager Dolores Slatcher told the people gathered at the workshop that the licensing program would allow the city to better control conditions in rental properties. "We have a number of issues with rental properties and the landlord is not available," she said. "We live in a more mobile society, a more absentee society, and one of the ways to gather information about landlords is through a license." A number of the people at Monday night's workshop challenged the idea that landlords are unavailable. "That claim that you can't find property owners is bogus," said Pollak. "The assessment office has all the information you need."

The landlords also wanted to know how requiring such licenses would make it easier for the town to enforce existing codes. "With these fees, what are you going to do that you can't do now?" asked Spuck Bennett. "What benefit am I going to receive from all of this additional taxation?" added Dick Collison. "All you have to do is enforce the laws that you've got." Anderson said that requiring a license would give the city one more tool in its enforcement process. "Is this perfect? No," he added. "But we could stop issuing a license, and if that is violated that would move the court process forward. This would make our laws more enforceable." The landlords also predicted that a new license fee would just be passed on to their tenants. "It's not going to come out of my pocket," said Alonzo Kiefer. "It's going to go right on to my tenants." "Ultimately, the people you are trying to protect will suffer, because we will just pass the fees on in the rent," added Darlene Warren. Sharon Kensinger, president of East Coast Property Management, asked the council to exclude non-profit organizations from the program. Her company manages six low-income apartment complexes in town, including Chandler Heights I and Chandler Heights II. "Our tenants are already inspected by the government once, sometimes twice, a year," she said. "East Coast Property Management inspects the units twice a year. We are very much opposed to additional inspection. Also, these costs will be passed on to our tenants who cannot afford to see this happen." Many there also challenged the idea that because neighboring towns have business and rental licenses, Seaford can have them. Fran Ruark, who owns rental properties in Seaford and in Laurel, said that Laurel has been turned in "a Gestapo" because of its rental licensing program. "People are wanting to move out of Laurel," she said. Ron Marvel, Seaford, said that a licensing program does not automatically mean better housing. "Without these licenses, housing in Seaford is as good as any place in Sussex County," he said.

RECYCLE Center to Close The RECYCLE DELAWARE center located at the Seaford Village Shopping Center will close the week of November 13 at the request of the property owner. Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) has over 140 RECYCLE DELAWARE centers throughout the state, placed through voluntary sponsorships by schools, businesses, and shopping centers. Other nearby RECYCLE DELAWARE sites remain open to the public. A center at the Nylon Capital Shopping Center on the Stein Highway and Atlanta Rd in Seaford is available, as is the RECYCLE DELAWARE center at the Seaford Manor House on Middleford Road next to the Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. As an alternative, DSWA also offers voluntary Curbside Recycling to all residents of Delaware. For $6 per month, residents receive weekly curbside pick-up of the same recyclables as the drop off locations. For information on this or any other DSWA program, call the Citizens' Response Line at 1-800-404-7080.

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