An ordinance aimed at ridding city neighborhoods of crime ridden rental properties that drive out good neighbors has finally been forwarded to Dover City Council after several revisions.
City Council's Legislative, Finance & Administration Committee voted 4-0, with one absent, to send a first reading of the ordinance to the full council at its meeting scheduled for March 25.
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 proposed ordinance would require that landlords participate in a safe communities program offered by the Dover Police Department and require them to include a safe communities addendum to their leases, Dover Director of Planning Ann Marie Townshend said. The ordinance was revised to change "crime-free housing" to "safe communities" at the recommendation of the Delaware Department of Justice in order to avoid a trademark violation, she said. And it spelled out in more clear language when landlords would have to attend the police seminar.
The proposed ordinance would also require landlords to begin the eviction process for tenants who had engaged in criminal activity on three or more occasions within a 12-month period.
In addition, the ordinance more specifically defined what would constitute criminal activity, Townshend said.
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, as had been testified to council during previous meetings.
In addition to meeting with the state Office of the Attorney General, Townshend said she and Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt had met with the Harrington city manager and police chief to discuss the voluntary safe communities seminar Harrington had set up for its local landlords.
"My recommendation is to move it up or down," Townshend said.
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. On Monday night, he implored the legislative committee to finally move this legislation forward.
"We have run the gamut all the to the Attorney General's Office," Hosfelt said. "We're at our wits' end. We need to take action. There are no more changes we can make."
Committee member Michael Rushe, an attorney with Hudson Jones, had previously criticized what he concluded was "vague language" in the ordinance with regard to what constituted criminal activity. But Rushe supported the revised ordinance.
"I just want to say thank you," he said. "I know I was a harsh critic. I think the definition of criminal activity has come a long way."
The ordinance states, "Criminal activity means any crime classified by applicable laws as a felony or class A misdemeanor" as well as several offenses specifically laid out in the ordinance.
During public comment, Kent County Association of Realtors Board member Todd Stonesifer said the association supported the ordinance based on the revisions that had been incorporated into the ordinance at the realtors' suggestion.
State Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Kent Central) also expressed support for the ordinance.
"I have dealt this the same issues that gave rise to this," he said. "These kinds of problems can be ruinous to a community."
Committee Chairman Councilman Sean Lynn, Rushe and fellow committee members Councilman William Hare and Daniel Shevock then voted to accept Townshend's recommendation to move the ordinance to the next level.
Council President Tom Leary, not a member of the committee, said he was pleased to see the legislation moving forward. On Monday morning, Leary said he had received a call from a constituent in The Hamlet to complain about a problem tenant throwing stones at her windows.
"It just has to stop," Leary said.
Lynn and Mayor Carleton Carey Sr. thanked Townshend and Hosfelt for their work on this ordinance.
"I too have received calls from constituents," Carey said. "There's no reason for citizens in Dover to live this way. We don't want anything to deter the quality of life."