Three cities recently have adopted rental “nuisance” ordinances — laws that hold landlords liable for the activities of their tenants.
Last week, Bangor, Maine lawmakers passed a nuisance ordinance, which they say will help cut crime in the city.
Under the new ordinance, any tenant or guest who offends the “normal sensitivities” of the surrounding community can trigger a classification of “Disruptive Property”. The ordinance suggests the following activities as examples:
“Excessive, loud or unnecessary” noises audible beyond the property line;
Other similar activities occurring within or outside any building located on the property.
Each 24-hour period constitutes a new disturbance. Should a rental property be subject to two or more disturbances within six months, the property is deemed a public nuisance, and the law then triggers the need to undergo a comprehensive property inspection by the city’s building department. While the law generally applies to all residential properties, owner-occupied residences are not automatically required to undergo inspections.
In addition to allowing an inspection, the owner would be required to attend a meeting with local officials to discuss plans to fix the problem. At that meeting, the owner must produce a complete description of the property, including:
A list of all dwelling units and their postal or Emergency 911 address designation as they are located on the property;
Floor plans or sketches for all structures located on the property showing the location of all dwelling unit entrances and egress points, sleeping areas, and common areas;
A site description and sketch acceptable to the Code Enforcement Officer and Fire Chief showing the locations and dimensions of all structures, yards or open spaces or recreational spaces, walkways, parking spaces, driveways, and curb cuts; and,
Other descriptive items as might be requested such as a listing of the names of all tenants and other authorized occupants of the property at the time of the Disruptive Property classification, and a copy of lease agreements.
Under this plan, the acting Police Chief has broad authority to institute any proceedings that he or she may deem fit under the circumstances to eliminate the nuisance.
Recently, lawmakers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, passed a nuisance measure very similar to the one just described in Bangor. One difference is that the Cedar Rapids measure has a more defined structure for levying landlord fines. In some cases, a landlord may pay each time police or emergency responders are called to a rental property. Before it’s passage, that bill faced serious opposition from local landlords, and the ACLU filed a protest of the law, citing concerns that it would endanger domestic violence victims.
The Cedar Rapids City Council is currently debating a provision that would make criminal background checks of tenants mandatory, and may require mandatory landlord training.
Late last year, New Britain, Connecticut became the scene of a heated legal dispute between city officials and landlords over an “anti-blight” measure that allows the city to fine landlords for police calls to rental properties, and penalizes all landlords who live outside of city boundaries. While the city council did agree to lower the costs of mandatory inspections in an effort to make the measure more palatable for landlords, a lawsuit is still pending challenging the constitutionality of the measure, which is directed solely at rental properties. Both sides have hired public relations firms.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.