Dover City Council's Legislative, Finance & Administrative Committee held off on moving forward an ordinance aimed at expelling problem tenants from crime ridden rental properties at its meeting Monday night due to ongoing concerns about vague references to criminal activity.
As such, the committee held a split, 3-2 vote to send the ordinance back to the Dover Department of Planning & Inspections for revisions for a second time. The committee also referred the ordinance back to the department for revisions back on Jan. 14.
Dover Director of Planning Anne Marie Townshend said the ordinance aimed to strengthen city code under the buildings and regulations chapter to set forth a clear process on how to trigger evictions from problem rental units.
"We're getting bogged down with the details," Townshend told the committee Monday night. "I think we're at the point now where this is not a knee jerk reaction to one or two problem properties. This is a recurring problem for neighborhoods throughout the city.
"I know families who have left Dover because they've heard shots fired and are concerned about criminal activity," she added.
Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt said the ordinance was a good tool for public safety and law enforcement. Hosfelt explained that his officers continually went to problem rental units to arrest criminals only to see them return to the neighborhoods they had victimized and held hostage, essentially. The ordinance would cut down on the blight across the city caused by problem rental properties, he said.
"I say this as someone who lives in the city and owns property in the city," Hosfelt said. "It goes hand and hand with the Dover safety initiative. Some of the landlords may not like this, but I think they'll see this as a tool in the long run."
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 seminar offered by the Dover Police Department and they would have to include a crime-free housing addendum to their leases.
But Committee member Michael Rushe, an attorney with Hudson Jones, still found fault with the "vague language" on the crime free housing addendum he complained about when the committee referred the ordinance back to planning on Jan. 14. The language states that property owners or managers must evict tenants immediately for "any arrest for a felony; three or more arrests for Class A Misdemeanors within a 12-month period; or other arrests, where the Chief of Police recommends eviction due to the frequency or nature of the arrests."
Property owners would then have 30 days to evict the problem tenants, the ordinance states, according to the ordinance.
"I just think the ordinance, whatever its good intentions, is a poor choice for legislators," Rushe said.
Page 2 of 2 - When discussion was opened up to non-committee members, Councilman David Bonar asked City Solicitor William Pepper if he had reviewed the ordinance and found it to be legally sound.
Pepper, of Schmittinger & Rodriguez, said he would in fact prefer to see a list of crimes being cause for eviction spelled out.
Councilman Adam Perza, an attorney with Lynn, May & Perza, said the lawyer in him had reservations about vague language giving the chief of police discretion to recommend evictions, among other things.
Committee member Councilman William Hare, for his part, said he did not oppose the ordinance, per say. But, nonetheless, he expressed concern about the ordinance penalizing good landlords for the sake of the bad ones.
During public comment, Dover resident Joseph Bauer Sr. said he wanted the committee to hear how he and his wife had been affected by problem rental properties in their neighborhood, The Hamlet. When the weather is nice, Bauer has to look outside to see who is out there in order to avoid the miscreants who harass him or taunt him and his family, even if they are at a distance, he said.
In addition, Bauer recently had his house reappraised only to find out his home had not increased in value since he moved in back in 1995. He was not surprised, however, given the deterioration of the neighborhood.
Dover resident Steve Wilson also supported the ordinance because he was tired of landlords only interested in making money through the federal Section 8 program that provided low income housing and not in quality of life for city residents.
"Middle class families have moved out and their properties are bought up by big companies," Wilson said. "They go right for Section 8 because they don't have to fix them up."
After public comment, Committee Chairman Sean Lynn called for a voice vote. He and Anderson voted against sending the ordinance back to planning while Hare, Rushe and Daniel Shevock voted yes.