Flea markets, rental housing worth a look

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners has recently expressed intentions to take a closer look at two types of businesses in the city — flea markets and rental housing.

We support the city’s decision to examine whether tighter scrutiny is needed within these two segments of the local economy, though we do so with a bit of caution.

First, flea markets.

As Commissioner Dean Brown said at a recent board meeting, flea markets are part of the “American way.” Nearly everyone loves a flea market.

For those visiting the businesses, it’s an opportunity to discover hard-to-find items, or to come across goods sold at a steep discount over what it would normally cost in the retail market.

For vendors, flea markets represent an opportunity to supplement their income — or in some cases be their main source of income — in a relatively low-risk, low-pressure environment.

And the owners of the land or facilities being used have the chance to earn money through rent to the vendors.

However, as Commissioner Jim Armbrister has said, attempting to ensure cleanliness and sanitation at the sites is certainly within the purview of the city commissioners.

The board should also keep an eye on ensuring full-time business owners who pay city taxes and business fees aren’t put in a position of being undermined too greatly by flea market operators who don’t have to meet city sanitation standards, nor pay any fees.

Competing with flea markets is part of life for various retailers, and it shouldn’t be any different in Mount Airy. We would hate to see heavy burdens put on flea market vendors, essentially regulating them out of business. At the same time, those folks who are running full-time establishments, contributing to the economy through employing others, paying taxes, and so forth, should know the city will attempt to keep the playing field as level as possible for them.

As for rental housing, we wholeheartedly support a good, hard look at that market in Mount Airy.

We believe most landlords in the city and surrounding community are good and honorable people. They want their properties to meet or exceed basic safety and cleanliness standards, and they want their tenants to have a good, safe place for their rent money.

But there are exceptions to that, landlords who simply want to collect a check regardless of the condition of their properties — even if that means allowing their tenants to suffer with substandard housing that is not safe and certainly affects the value of nearby property.

Unfortunately, the folks caught living in places like this are often the ones least able to do anything about it. If they kick up a fuss over substandard housing, over safety or basic sanitation issues in their homes, the landlord simply expels them and moves on, and under North Carolina laws tenants have little recourse.

However, if city officials were to do regular inspections of rental property, landlords like this would be forced to keep the homes up to basic standards, and the tenants would not have to worry about being expelled in retribution.

We hope city officials do take a hard, close look at the rental housing market in Mount Airy, so that tenants — particularly those on the low end of the economic scale — and nearby property owners are protected.

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