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Dewey amends residential rental licenses

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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New measure spurred by former Mayor Tush's complaint to ACLU

Following a complaint filed to the American Civil Liberties Union by former Mayor Dell Tush, the rights of residential rental licensees in Dewey Beach have recently gotten stronger.

During a Dec. 12 town council meeting, Dewey Beach officials voted unanimously in favor of amending town code by removing wording that allowed a town building official to enter a rental unit with notice.

As part of the change, a town building official cannot enter a residential rental over the objection of an individual without first getting a warrant to enter. Property owners must also be notified 21 days in advance of an inspection.

Fred Townsend, town attorney, said the change recognizes the privacy rights of the individuals renting the property.

Tush contacted the ACLU earlier this year after the town delayed the issuance of her rental license because she crossed out the portion of the license allowing the town official to enter.

In a July email, Tush said, signing that document would have forced her to give up her Fourth Amendment rights.

Richard Morse, ACLU legal director, wrote a letter June 17 to Mayor Diane Hanson requesting the town take action to have the ordinance repealed because it is unconstitutional.

At the time of the complaint, town council agreed to address the issue as soon as the summer season ended. The December decision was at least the second time the group had addressed the concerns since the town election in September.

There was little discussion before the vote, but two issues were raised.

Commissioner Courtney Rior-dan said he wanted wording added specifically addressing what the town was concerned about. He said examples include adequate fire protection and occupancy levels.

Riordan said other issues, like sanitation and health concerns, should be left to the county and other people with expertise in those issues.

Mayor Diane Hanson said that's what the town does now and will continue to do in the future. If a person goes into a rental to check fire extinguishers and sees a bunch of mold, that person will make the correct call, she said.

Commissioner Dale Cooke questioned why inspections weren't included as part of the agreement.

He said he thought there would be wording that included an initial inspection for first-time licensees and subsequent inspections every few years.

Townsend said that was an issue for another day.

He said that issue was specifically not addressed because there could be opposition, and then the change as a whole might not happen.

Townsend said the ACLU approves of the changes.

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Original Publication Date: January 8, 2016

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