MOUNT VERNON — Under an ordinance proposed by Mount Vernon City Council, landlords of rental and commercial properties could be compelled to evict tenants found guilty of committing a wide variety of offenses.
The ordinance, introduced at the May 24 meeting of council, targets properties where drug activity occurs, City Law Director Rob Broeren said. Broeren said it was born out of a wider desire by Councilmember John Francis to do more to combat drug problems in city neighborhoods.
While illegal drug activity is listed as something that can trigger the use of the ordinance, so is activity that falls under the city’s ordinances for liquor control, animal violations, drug violations, gambling, illegal distribution of tobacco products, health, safety or sanitation violations, sex offenses, violent crime and weapons offenses.
Landlords would be penalized for allowing their tenants to remain if, after two misdemeanor convictions in a six-month period, or one felony drug conviction in a six month period, another conviction follows within two years. Those penalties include fines up to $1,000 and being charged with a minor misdemeanor. The convictions would have to stem from offenses at the landlord’s property, committed by a tenant.
The evictions would come after the property has been declared to be a nuisance and the criminal activity continues. It is up to the Mount Vernon Police chief to pursue, and issue, the nuisance declaration, Broeren said. Once the nuisance declaration has been served on the landlord, they are officially on notice that the pattern of activity has occurred at their residence. Once a subsequent violation occurs, the landlord must stop the activity or evict the tenant. Failing to do so triggers fines and the possibility of the misdemeanor charge being brought against the landlord.
The cost of the eviction process would be placed on the landlord, if the tenant chooses to fight the eviction in court. Even if there is specific language in a lease stating that illegal activity can be used to terminate the agreement between tenant and landlord, the outcome still depends upon the ruling of a judge, Dennis Harrington, an attorney with Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, said.
If the landlord does nothing, police can move to have the tenant evicted and the property boarded up, with the cost billed to the landlord.
While most of the offenses listed in the ordinance are serious crimes, they also include failing to get a dog license, dogs running at large, and barking or howling dogs. Use and selling of drugs is covered, but also are minor drug offenses such as possession of paraphernalia.
Ordinances that would include commercial landlords include a business or bar where illegal gambling tickets or machines are in use and establishments that sell alcohol or tobacco to minors. Though the ordinance was not written with commercial landlords in mind, Broeren said “it could be” applied to them.
The ordinance is scheduled for a final reading at tonight’s council meeting. It will be discussed prior to the meeting in a 10-minute planning and zoning committee meeting.
Several residences have been declared nuisances in Mount Vernon by Knox County Prosecuting Attorney Chip McConville. McConville pursued the nuisance declarations by obtaining an order through the county’s court system. To obtain the order, McConville said it only has to be proved that illegal activity constituting a nuisance was happening at the specific residence. The court order used by McConville does not require a criminal conviction.
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