Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney
♦ As promised, I attended second public forum hosted by The Salisbury Housing Advocacy Commission (appointed by the Salisbury City Council) concerning the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) on properties tonight at One Water Street. Arriving there, I and many other concerned citizens (mainly landlords and city wonks) parked in the parking lot beside the tracks.
The meeting concerned a proposed ordinance that would hold landlords responsible for “disorder activities” that occur of their properties. In attendance were City Council members David Post and Maggie Blackwell and the master of ceremonies was Preston Mitchell, who did an outstanding job MCing the event. Ice water and cookies were provided to the standing room only crowd of mostly landlords and real estate professionals, including Wallace Realty’s Greg Rapp and Victor Wallace.
Preston confirms that negative property designations and attendant fees and fines will run with the land to subsequent purchasers and I made it clear realtors and closing attorneys will need a searchable database. A landlord questioned whether the Salisbury Police and code enforcement had the staff to implement this ordinance. During that question Maggie Blackwell revealed that SPD is now 19 officers down. Someone else must have quit since last Tuesday.
In general, the landlords recognized quickly that despite the “relationship building” propaganda being spin, that this ordinance was a punitive measure aimed at forcing landlords to evict folks SPD deemed disruptive. Many complained about SPD’s lack of manpower and inability to properly respond to crime and at least one commenter chided at the City’s attempt to force them to do “the city’s job” in this regard.
David Post mentioned the language from my last article that landlords will need to add to their lease as a possibility and I explained how this would allow landlords to evict with little legal drama just based upon the property being placed on the “In Need of Remedial Action” (INRA) list. This seemed to make the idea somewhat more palatable to some. City staff indicated that I was wrong in that a new state law prohibited criminal penalties from being assessed against landlords. This was good to know, and as a married man, I am used to being corrected from time to time.
There were a number of citizens whose comments clearly fell into the “we have to do something” column regarding absentee landlords and crime; however the majority of landlords seemed tepid to openly resistant to the ordinance.
Preston promised me a second time to speak and I begin to talk about “legalities” when suddenly well known Landlord Mr. Padget returned to the room and announced that his truck broken into, mere feet from the entrance. A mad scramble ensued as those in attendance rushed to their cars and found two additional vehicles were rifled as well. We learned later that Maggie Blackwell was one of the victims. Now she might be more understanding when one of our citizens suffers during Salisbury’s immense tidal wave of crime.
I ran to the car and retrieved my Glock, lest deadly mayhem ensue, but the perpetrators were long gone. Another long suffering, exhausted, underpaid and overworked SPD Officer arrived to take the reports. While I did not speak to him, his fatigue was apparent.
It makes one wonder whether Salisbury’s criminal element has become sophisticated enough to spot the meeting on the Fibrant network and realize landlords often carry around large sums of cash, particularly on nights where they can’t get to the bank because of an important meeting.
I am breaking a promise. I said I would come up with an opinion regarding this ordinance tonight. While the RAP ordinance appears to be a confusing muddle at this point, perhaps elements of it might be salvageable. My offer to help remains open.
It’s a sad state of affairs when you can’t even have a meeting to force landlords to fight crime for you without them becoming victims of crime themselves. Perhaps for the next meeting the city can hire a deputy sheriff to provide parking lot security.