Durham families push for ‘Tenant’s Bill of Rights’ that would require timely repairs in rental units

North Carolina

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Thousands of families in Durham have had to wait months for repairs to be completed in their rental units, and many of them have been forced to live in deplorable living conditions.

CBS 17 has reported for months about unlivable conditions at both private and public housing complexes in Durham where families wait months for repairs to be done.

To speed up the repair process for all renters in the city, the Durham City Council is considering a resolution that would support a “Tenant’s Bill of Rights” that would ensure work orders are completed in a timely manner and keep tenants from being abruptly evicted.

During Thursday’s city council work session, council member DeDreana Freeman said the Bull City Tenants Union and the city’s Race Equity Task Force have been working on this proposal for a while.

The Tenant’s Bill of Rights would require all rental units in Durham to undergo regular inspections, receive timely repairs, and give tenants the right to collective bargaining so they wouldn’t be abruptly displaced.

While Freeman pushed for the city council to take up this resolution at the next work session on Aug. 19, Mayor Steve Schewel said he thought the city would need more time to determine how the resolution would work.

“I think if we are serious about this, we need to have good work done by our attorney to help us decide what are things that we can legally enforce locally and what are things we are just advocating for at the state level,” Schewel said.

The city council has decided to bring up the resolution at their Sept. 2 work session.

Cari Smith lives at Garden Terrace, a private housing complex, on House Avenue in Durham.

Smith said shortly after she moved in with her two sisters, her niece and her son, she said they had issues with mushrooms growing from her ceiling.

“It was literally growing, it started from a little small ‘nothing’ to ‘something’,” Smith said.

Smith said it took the landlord two months to come out and fix the problem.

“We most definitely pay our rent on time, so why can’t they come and fix it on time?” Smith said.

Smith isn’t alone. In Dec. 2020, the city of Durham found 121 code violations at Garden Terrace, where families were forced to live for months with mold, rotting walls, and holes in their ceilings.

The landlord of the property, Jonathan Dayan, told CBS 17 management was not aware of many of the issues until December, because he said they were not reported to property management.

On Thursday, Dayan said that there are currently only two open cases and all other work orders have been closed.

But families who live at Garden Terrace said they are hoping the city will move forward with the Tenant’s Bill of Rights resolution to prevent families from living in deplorable conditions again.

“We need them to do something, put their foot down and do something,” Smith said. “If they take their time to come and fix it, that is a no-go. People have children, why don’t they understand that.”

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