Owners of rental properties who don’t deal with problem tenants could also find themselves in trouble.
City Manager Doug Adkins said there are properties in Middletown that generate higher than normal calls for city services by way of code enforcement violations and/or criminal activity.
Adkins said a chronic nuisance ordinance attempts to identify those particular properties by reviewing and collecting nuisances registered across all city departments, then city officials notify the owner that his property is becoming a nuisance to the neighborhood. He said the proposed ordinance would enable the city to take action against the owner to recover ongoing future city costs in responding to and abating those nuisances if the owner chooses not to take action to correct the situation.
“The idea is to make sure the owner knows that his property is becoming a problem before it escalates, and then to make sure that either the problem is resolved or that the city is reimbursed for future costs responding to problems at that property.
Middletown police Lt. Jim Cunningham shared a draft of the proposed ordinance to hold landlords accountable with members of the Middletown Real Estate Investors Group at its Thursday meeting.
Cunningham said the city’s codified ordinances do not provide an adequate tool to abate nuisance properties as well as a way to address landlords who fail to take action against the tenants causing the problems. The lack of a chronic nuisance ordinance lessens the city’s ability to use sections of state law to address problem properties because the city has to able to show it had tried to work with the property owner.
When there are problems at a residence, police will send a letter to the property owner that police, fire or EMS was dispatched to their property because of criminal activity, a disturbance, a code violation, an overdose or other medical emergency. The letter also lets them know if someone was arrested. The letter also notes that if drug activity was found during that incident and the tenant was not evicted or the landlord failed or refused to take action, the landlord could also be charged with permitting drug abuse, a first-degree misdemeanor, or see that charge elevated to a fifth-degree felony if drug trafficking is found and verified.
“It creates a financial burden to the city,” Cunningham said. “The city wants to lessen that financial burden and hold those responsible accountable. This (the proposed ordinance) is what the city is saying to landlords who don’t do anything about these issues.”
Adkins said when the city considered a rental registration ordinance a few years ago, the landlords got together and showed city officials a better way to solve the issues that Middletown was facing.
He also said a large number of landlords routinely screen their tenants, monitor their properties to stay in compliance with local ordinances and take immediate action when a tenant breaches their lease or becomes a nuisance. The city has also provided funding for landlords to utilize a service to do credit and criminal background checks on prospective tenants.
“It is my belief that those landlords and the homeowners in the neighborhood should not be subjected to ongoing nuisance issues by the few owners who choose not to be responsible with their properties,” Adkins said. “This is a quality of life and property value issue. No one wants to live next door to, or to purchase a house next to a continuing code enforcement violation or ongoing criminal activity.”
The proposed ordinance would also provide landlords evidence to evict a problem tenant.
If a property is deemed to be a chronic nuisance property or if there is felony drug activity found and the landlord does nothing to address the problem, some of the penalties include billing the landlord for the cost of sending police, fire or EMS responding to a call; civil penalties ranging from $150 to $1,000; being charged with a minor misdemeanor with a fine of $150 for violating the ordinance and separate offenses could be charged for each day the violation occurs or continues; and/or revoking occupancy, health or other permits granted to the property owner.
The draft ordinance also has provisions to protect landlords who do attempt to correct the problems; or who were unaware of the nuisance, such as being out of town and tried to correct the problem upon return; or after doing a background check on a tenant and was in the process of eviction when an offense occurred. The draft ordinance also includes an appeal process.
Dan Tracy, a local landlord, said he’s worked with police when there have been issues at his rental properties. He said if there is an incident at a rental property, police will contact the landlord.
“If you don’t want something in your neighborhood, you need to make it uncomfortable for them so they will leave,” he said.
Tracy said if a landlord has to evict a tenant they should have evidence or information about the problem tenant. He said a landlord can go to Middletown Municipal Court and get an immediate writ to evict a tenant with three days notice if there were drugs involved.
Steve Bohannon, another landlord, said tenants should be listed in a database and after they move, a landlord can simply note whether they would rent again to that tenant.
“It is our hope that the group will work with us to create an ordinance for council consideration that meets city needs while exempting and protecting diligent landlords from the process,” Adkins said. “We will continue discussions with various city departments and the landlords in town until we have the best ordinance that meets those criteria. Once those discussions are completed, we will move the process on to City Council for consideration.”