Dover City Council will soon consider an ordinance aimed at compelling landlords of problem rental properties to participate in a crime-free housing program aimed at eliminating blight upon city neighborhoods.
Under the proposed ordinance, the city's buildings and regulations would be amended so that landlords would have to participate in a crime-free housing program, Dover Director of Planning & Community Development Ann Marie Townshend said. That would include participating in a crime-free housing seminar offered by the Dover Police Department and including a crime-free housing addendum to leases.
The city's Department of Planning & Inspections has been working with the police department to address the problem properties that have become a blight within city neighborhoods, Townshend said.
Police Chief James Hosfelt and Master Cpl. Chad Bernat told Dover City Council's Legislative, Finance & Administration committee on Jan. 14 that the ordinance was needed in order to help police do their job in enforcing city code with regard to problem rental properties. The committee later voted to review the proposed ordinance again at its Jan. 28 meeting, which council canceled Thursday night.
Townshend said the training would not be anything onerous for landlords.
"It's a two-hour seminar required once every three years," she said. "It's a tool for landlords."
Failure to enforce the crime-free lease provision could result in a suspension of the lease agreement, Townshend said.
"If your tenant is dealing drugs out of the house and you do not move forward to evict, we could suspend a rental permit for that reason," she said.
Councilman David Anderson proposed an amendment to allow a landlord to opt out of the crime free housing requirement and pay an additional $50 for each dwelling unit as a disincentive to not participate. He also proposed exemptions for licensed real estate agents to attend the seminar unless their rental permits were suspended for failing to adhere to the crime-free lease provision.
Legislative committee member Michael Rushe, an attorney with Hudson Jones, said he agreed with the spirit of the ordinance, but its reference to criminal activity was too vague. And there was no state law requiring a written lease, Rushe said.
Townshend said the city solicitor had reviewed the ordinance and illegal activity was clearly defined as anything that ran afoul of the law and could be responded to by police. And the city required a signed lease in order to turn on electricity.
However, Townshend said the ordinance could be tweaked.
Council President Thomas Leary said it was important for city council to not take its eye off the ball in dealing with people "who had no respect for the law."
"Let's keep it focused," he said. "This is a crime problem. People are scared."
Page 2 of 2 - Indeed, Maureen Bauer, a resident of the Hamlet, said a few rental units had become a problem in her neighborhood. Bauer said she was tired of empty promises from the landlords and wanted council to do something because she had seen good neighbors move out of her neighborhood because of the problem properties.
Philip McGinnis, Kent County Association of Realtors policy committee chairman, said that as long as licensed and professional property managers were exempt, then local Realtors did not have a problem with the ordinance. He said real estate agents and professional property owners had already received the training Townshend had proposed.
All in all, Councilman Sean Lynn said this ordinance was part of a comprehensive plan to address crime in the city.
Councilman James Hutchison said the criminal seminars required by the ordinance amendment would be an educational opportunity for landlords.