Nuisance property law faces more study

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A proposed ordinance granting city leaderspower to deal with nuisance properties failed to reach a voteTuesday night after some aldermen objected to the proposal asexcessive.

    At the last board meeting held in January, Ward Six Alderman DavidPhillips presented the board with a “Chronic Nuisance PropertyOrdinance.” The ordinance would require landlords and propertyowners to take action against continual problems on their propertyor face fines.

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    Phillips’ push for the ordinance was prompted by recurringcomplaints requiring police intervention at Hayes Trailer Park,located on Industrial Park Road in Phillips’ ward. The BrookhavenPolice Department visited the trailer park 80 times in 2011,according to department reports.

    Phillips wanted to pass the ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting,but resistance quickly mounted.

    Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron expressed support for much of theordinance but said a committee should be formed to further examinethe issue.

    Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell and Ward Two Alderman Terry Batesjoined Cameron in airing reservations, with both suggesting theordinance as written goes too far.

    “I’m all for a safer city but we don’t have to pass a 1942 GermanyGestapo ordinance to do that,” Maxwell said.

    Maxwell said a committee should further examine the issue, with awork session held following that for the full board to add theirinput.

    Phillips expressed a desire to produce an ordinance acceptable toall aldermen, but urged speed in reaching a decision.

    “We can beat this horse to death and then do something a year fromnow, but I have a problem now,” Phillips said.

    A Brandon resident Phillips has called an “absentee landowner” ownsHayes Trailer Park. Problems began to appear on the property aboutsix years ago, Phillips said.

    According to police reports, complaints in 2011 included burglary,attempted burglary, armed robbery and discharging a firearm. Themonth of December alone brought three complaints of a dischargedfirearm.

    “This is not a witch hunt but a tool for poorly managed property,”Phillips said.

    The ordinance submitted by Phillips allows a property to beclassified a “nuisance property” after three nuisance events occuron a property within a 60-day period.

    Under the ordinance, any criminal conduct on the property wouldcount as a “nuisance event,” with incidents in which a propertyresident was only the victim of a crime excluded. Violations ofhealth, fire and sanitation codes would also count as nuisanceevents.

    Once classified as a nuisance property, the property owner wouldhave to present a plan to the board describing measures to counterthe problems.

    No action by the landowner could result in initial fines of $1,000,with the possibility of court action and further fines later.

    Maxwell expressed sympathy for Phillips and the residents aroundthe trailer park, but he continued to describe the ordinance asoverreaching.

    “You don’t pass something this major to solve one problem,” Maxwellsaid. “This ordinance, as I see it, takes a lot of power out ofthis board and gives it to other hands.”

    Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes compared the ordinance to similarregulations that already exist.

    “If I let junk cars pile up in my yard, the city can deal withthat,” Estes said. “Why can’t we address a property owner allowingthese incidents?”

    Maxwell and Bates both said the ordinance puts landlords in theposition of having to act as a police force for their property.

    Upon hearing the objections, Phillips did not put the ordinance toa vote.

    A committee, composed of Phillips, Maxwell and Bates, was formedwith Phillips as chairman. The panel is to study the ordinance andreport back to aldermen at the first board meeting in March.