Town proposal takes on `disorderly' houses issue

Westminster plan to deal with problem properties

March 22, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

In an effort to cut down on nuisances, Westminster officials are considering a proposal that emphasizes a collaborative effort between the city and landlords as the first step before taking legal action against property owners.

The Westminster Common Council is expected to begin discussions on a proposed "disorderly house" nuisance ordinance at tonight's meeting.

The proposal would require an owner of property in the Carroll County town to meet with city officials and enter into an agreement spelling out ways to correct problems after the property is declared a disorderly house. Only if the property owner fails to enter into an agreement or does not comply with the settlement would the city take action against the landowner.

"It gives us an advantage because we could have a face-to-face meeting with the property owner," said Shawn Siders, Westminster's town planner. "That alone will make the process much better."

Several residents - particularly those on Pennsylvania Avenue - have complained that the city needs to more aggressively hold landlords accountable for code violations and maintenance problems.

Recently, the city passed an ordinance requiring registration of all rental properties and expanded its maintenance code to include owner-occupied buildings.

Westminster has a code enforcement officer who handles complaints and conducts inspections related to property maintenance and housing, and other issues regarding residential and commercial properties.

Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff said Friday that the city's proposed nuisance ordinance would become the "intermediate step" between code enforcement and the state's common nuisance law, which requires felonious drug activity be present at the property before officials can take action.

Dayhoff said that in some cases, the city has not been able to get landlords' cooperation.

"We want to address those continuing problems that involve both multiple criminal and code violations," he said. Added council President Damian L. Halstad, "It's an attempt to keep moving forward with our efforts to improve some blighted areas while not being too heavy-handed."

Under the ordinance, city officials would declare a property a "disorderly house" if there are two or more arrests, or property maintenance and zoning violations within a year. Other violations would include those related to alcohol, noise, animal control and safety concerns.

"We're looking to address the habitual violators who don't seem to get the message," Dayhoff said. "It's going to be a valuable tool as to how we could be hard-hitting with these property problems."

Westminster is not the only municipality in Carroll County trying to address nuisance problems. Last month, Union Bridge officials introduced an ordinance that would fine property owners or occupants for excessive police calls.

Russ Arnez II, president of the Carroll County Landlords Association, said although the town's proposal sounds good, he was disappointed that officials did not consult his organization.

Arnez, who manages 11 units in Westminster, said he hopes to have a representative at tonight's meeting. "Why don't I know about this?" Arnez asked when told Friday of the city's proposal. "They know we exist."

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