Committee considers nuisance properties

The Sweet Home City Council’s Public Safety Committee is considering ways to address properties with ongoing problems with illegal activities.

City Attorney Robert Snyder said he likely will have a draft ordinance dealing with “chronic nuisance properties” in front of the Public Safety Committee by the Nov. 11 City Council meeting.

At this point, the committee and city staff members are looking at examples of ordinances from other cities, including Springfield and Silverton.

“It was brought to our attention by a citizen who thought it might help with properties that are problematic for the livability of their neighborhoods,” said City Manager Craig Martin. “So the Public Safety Committee is looking at what other cities have done in terms of local ordinance to help address the problems of, I think what the term is, chronic nuisance properties.”

The ordinance may be useful in situations reported to the council last month involving the 12th Avenue-Poplar Street area, where residents were complaining about noise, obnoxious behavior and crime, Martin said.

Primarily, chronic nuisance properties refers to frequent criminal activity or other illegal activities, Martin said. In a nutshell, under other ordinances, if a property has a certain number of illegal activities recorded in a certain period of time, the city gives the property owner an opportunity to come up with a solution to prevent further occurrences.

Typically, example ordinances deal with criminal activity, Snyder said. “It’s a tool for the police to use in trying to address problems that we have in town or could have.”

Ultimately, without compliance, the ordinance would give the court a way to close a property for a certain time or until a problem is abated, Martin said. Other cities have varying degrees of severity in possible responses.

Most of the ordinances address residential property, Martin said. Drinking establishments, for example, are already regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and the OLCC can and does shut down problematic drinking establishments.

Some ordinances cover the entire town, including business districts, Snyder said.

The Public Safety Committee will be deciding what triggers might be and how to resolve problems, Martin said. The members appear interested in looking further into it and finding out whether it would be a benefit in response to citizen complaints.

“Right now, they’re just in the research phase,” Martin said. There isn’t a specific time frame, but the committee will make a decision whether to move a recommendation and draft ordinance to the full council at some point.

If it does move forward, the council will likely choose to solicit public input before acting on the proposal, Martin said.

The meetings of the Public Safety Committee are public and usually follow the regular City Council meeting as needed. The council meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.

The Public Safety Committee includes councilors Dave Trask, Bruce Hobbs and Greg Mahler.

“It’s kind of new to me,” Trask said. “Honestly, I don’t know. I know it sounds good on paper. If you have 15 drug busts, something needs to be done. It sounds like a good idea, but can we implement it?”

If he had a rental, he wouldn’t put up with problematic behavior, Trask said, but he understands that dealing with problem tenants can be difficult.

He thinks he would support an ordinance, although he is uncertain precisely what provisions he would support. The consequences of the ordinance could be severe.

“Do we want to push that on them when they can’t control people (tenants)?” Trask asked. Still, if the police came to him with information about criminal activity at a house he owns, he’d tell the tenants to get out. “It does seem like a reasonable thing to do. I’d lean toward voting yes.”

But he’d like to find out how it’s working elsewhere.

“The chronic nuisance property (ordinance) could be a useful tool to help deal with an absentee owner or owners, who are simply just unconcerned with their property’s negative impact on surrounding neighbors,” Hobbs said. “I would like to make sure that there are plenty of steps along the way to make sure that owners that are trying to comply are not punished because of other legal hurdles in their way, such as Oregon’s tenant eviction laws and rules. It would also be good to include all property types, not just residential.”