Dover officials are still wrestling with how to evict tenants from rental units who plague city neighborhoods with crime and subsequently drive out good neighbors in a way that puts the city on solid legal ground in anticipation of possible litigation.
Dover City Council is expected to formally approval the Legislative, Finance & Administration Committee's recommendation for yet more staff revisions as part of its consent agenda on Monday night, according to the City Clerk's Office. The committee referred the ordinance back to the Dover Department of Planning & Inspections for revisions on Feb. 11 and Jan. 14, and the full council reviewed the ordinance, without a committee recommendation, on Jan. 28 as part of this ongoing saga.
The ordinance is scheduled for more discussion on March 11.
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. Landlords would also have to evict tenants determined by the chief of police to be problem tenants.
Dover Director of Planning Ann Marie Townshend had said the ordinance would set forth a clear process on how to trigger evictions from problem rental units and prevent more law abiding citizens from moving out of the city.
Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt had said that police officers continually went to problem rental units to arrest criminals only to see them return to the neighborhoods they had victimized and held hostage.
However, committee member Michael Rushe, an attorney with Hudson Jones, found fault with the "vague language" on the crime free housing addendum that had stated 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."
In addition Delaware Justice of the Peace Chief Magistrate Alan Davis said both the landlord and the tenant should know what was prohibited. Davis commented on the proposed ordinance at the request of Councilman Sean Lynn, chairman of the Legislative, Finance & Administration Committee.
Councilman David Anderson, a committee member, recommended that felony convictions be used as grounds for eviction instead of just felony arrests. He also proposed revising the ordinance to evict tenants who had been arrested three or more times for Class A misdemeanors or above within a year. Anderson said that would help the city avoid lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Anybody can get arrested," Anderson said Wednesday." It doesn't mean you're guilty of anything. Now, if you have someone with multiple arrests, you can make an argument that there is a preponderance of evidence that they are creating irreparable harm to their neighborhood."
Page 2 of 2 - The hardest part is getting the ordinance out of committee, Anderson said. But he believes a majority of council will vote for the ordinance, which already has the support of Mayor Carleton Carey Sr.
"Right now, most of the state laws only apply to crimes happening at the property," Anderson said. "However, when there are robberies and the home is a hub for everything from burglaries to drug activity and a place where fugitives are going, it becomes a total cancer in the neighborhood. And that cancer has to be removed in order for the neighborhood to survive intact."
Carey, for his part, said he believed council would support the ordinance once the adjustments were in order.
"We're trying to make the neighborhoods what they should be," he said. "They should be a nice place to raise your family and a nice place to have a home. Sometimes we have to adjust things to make it so that we can do that for everybody concerned."