Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney
♦ Let’s suppose for a minute that you are a couple who purchased one of Salisbury’s 2,900 plus vacant or abandoned homes at a bargain price, recognized it has “good bones”, and decided to raid your 401K or borrow money to restore it and spent months stripping, sanding, repainting, and living out your “This Old House” fantasies. Let’s suppose that shortly thereafter, a house down the street is rented by an absentee landlord to some nice lady who next week starts moving in youngsters who appear to be engaged in some sort of regular disputes with other youths. Gunshots, raids, and fast moving cars become noticeable. The city should do something, right? The “cure” appears to be on the way, but then again, the “devil is in the details” as to whether it is just or workable.
The Salisbury Housing Advocacy Commission is a commission appointed by the Salisbury City Council. It is hosting its second public forum about the Remedial Action Plan (RAP), on properties. The forum will be held Monday, February 13th from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at One Water Street. (Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Administration Building)
The poster they sent me is attached, as is a copy of the draft ordinance.
The purpose is said to be to hold landlords accountable for recurring crime and disorderly activity on their properties and a draft of this proposed ordinance is attached below. The “Salisbury Spin” is that this is designed to build “relationships” between residential landlords and the police.
A previous forum was held on December 12, 2016 and there was no draft available to the public though several members of the HAC clearly had copies at the meeting.
Our initial article on the RAP Plan is here. After viewing the draft ordinance, most of my concerns still stand.
Under the ordinance, (simplified here) after a certain preset number of “disorder activities” at a particular location, the landlord is called to meet with a police official and a code enforcement officer. Unlike other similar ordinances there is no list of crimes and the definition of disorder activity can include both violent and non-violent crimes as well as code enforcement problems. (Parking on the grass seems to be a favorite these days) Domestic violence alone is excluded. The police official and code officer will come up with a “remedial action plan” and demand the landlord adopt “remedial measures.”
If the property remains above the “disorder threshold,” the property is designated INRA (In need of remedial action) and penalties may be assessed. The ordinance’s designations “are binding upon subsequent owners or transferees…” and thus violations “run with the land.” Real estate closing attorneys would be well advised to search the INRA list before a closing as this could come as a surprise to a new purchaser of real estate to find out he suddenly has unknown civil and maybe even criminal penalties affixed just by purchasing real estate. A city database will have to be made available to closing attorneys and realtors.
While the ordinance mainly speaks of fines and civil penalties and the city attorney being able to file suit under separate provisions of the nuisance ordinance, it does say that enforcement may be by “any other remedies authorized by law.” N.C. law says:
§ 14-4. Violation of local ordinances misdemeanor. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), if any person shall violate an ordinance of a county, city, town, or metropolitan sewerage district created under Article 5 of Chapter 162A, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00). No fine shall exceed fifty dollars ($50.00) unless the ordinance expressly states that the maximum fine is greater than fifty dollars ($50.00).
Making landlords criminally responsible for their tenant’s actions is contrary to American jurisprudence and patently unfair. The ordinance should be amended to provide a civil penalty and injunctive relief only.
To protect themselves, all landlords will have to add a paragraph to their lease saying designation of the property in the INRA list will be a lease violation, allowing eviction.
It will read something like this:
“Should the premises become designated INRA by the City of Salisbury this lease shall become null and void and tenant will have 10 days to vacate the property.”
What you have in the end, is a plan whereby the city uses landlords to run problem folks out of town. Landlords may find themselves in the business of banning specific visitors from tenant’s properties. Sounds good, right Mr. and Mrs. Re-hab owners?
I remain concerned about the law of unintended consequences and some of the things I mentioned in my last article like: this having a heavy effect on the black community (gentrification concerns), folks in INRA locations not hiding and not reporting crimes and tenants doing things like dragging dead bodies in their yard over the property line to prevent being evicted. Some of this may have a positive effect on Salisbury’s crime statistics as folks stop calling SPD for fear of eviction, but then again it might just increase folks settling disputes privately and dumping the bodies somewhere “creative.”
I do note I offered to help with this draft at the last meeting; however no one took me up on the offer. I remain undecided as to whether this ordinance can be saved and whether it will be a “godsend” or a “hot mess.” I will save that for a future article, after I attend Monday’s meeting.
The Latest Edition of the RAP Ordinance (February 2017):