Throwback Thursday: On This Date in 2013…
* Editor’s Note: The following story was published in 2013-
Nuisance Ordinance Sent Back for Revisions
Photo- property owner Paul Wachowiak addresses the City Council Monday night, saying a new chronic nuisance ordinance was unfair to property owners. (City-Times photo)
By Brandi Makuski
The Common Council Monday night postponed passing a chronic nuisance ordinance for the city in order to smooth over some of the language within the law.
The move came after several residents- primarily rental property owners- objected to the wording of the ordinance, which they felt might not only discourage renters from calling law enforcement when they need police assistance, but also unfairly hold property owners responsible for the actions of their tenants.
The chronic nuisance ordinance as written brings a “3 strikes” mentality to ordinance enforcement. If police are called to a property to deal with a finable ordinance violation three times within a 60 day period, the owner of the property would be required to complete an abatement plan with city officials. Should the abatement plan go unattended, or if the property owner ignores the warnings, fines and other legal action could follow.
The ordinance is designed to hold property owners accountable when city laws are repeatedly violated on their properties, and also meant to deal with property owners who encourage an environment which allows ordinance violations, to include violence, drugs and littering. The city began discussions of the ordinance earlier this year after police had been repeatedly called to one downtown business which had been holding an indoor midnight fight club.
Landlord David James said the current language singles out property owners and doesn’t address holding accountable those directly responsible for any repeated ordinance violation.
“The way it’s worded, it may encourage people to take the law into their own hands and try to deal with situations best left to the men and women of law enforcement,” he said.
James suggested instead of the chronic nuisance designation, the city should increase fines for ordinance violations because it places the blame directly on the offender.
Property owner Paul Wachowiak said the ordinance encourages a victim mentality to those who might need police assistance.
“These nuisance ordinances are popping up all over the country,” Wachowiak said. “Where ever these laws exist they have the potential of constituting an attack on tenants and landlords. Imagine a tenant who is threatened in their apartment but knows if they call the police they or their landlord could be cited for a third violation, and the next step they could be (evicted) out of their apartment. Having that conflict, that tenant may elect to not call the police.”
Wachowiak asked the Council to postpone any vote on the ordinance, and the Council eventually agreed, but not before City Attorney Logan Beveridge said many people are taking the language out of context.
“This ordinance is a lot simpler than it looks,” Beveridge said. “I want to make one thing real clear: this is not a tool to punish property owners, or to ‘womp’ on landlords or anything. It’s tool to create cooperation- the landowner has to cooperate with the police department to create an abatement plan. That’s how we envision this to function. If Steel Nightclub were still around and were still having the issues they were, we could notify them of the need for an abatement plan. If they just ignored it, that’s where the consequences comes in.”
Beveridge did admit some of the language within the ordnance could be make clearer, but did address concerns from Wachowiak and James by pointing out that calls for domestic abuse, stalking or sex assaults were not included in the “3 strikes” standard.
The Council asked Beveridge to better define some of the finer points of the ordinance, saying it was too broad in some areas, and to better outline to role of the police chief in the abatement process.
“We’ll bring this back in November,” Beveridge said. “This is designed to create a means of cooperation, to come up with a plant of abate nuisance. Also, if it reaches a point where the landlord isn’t cooperating at all, then the tax payers at large don’t have to continue to shoulder the cost for the same problems.”