MADEIRA BEACH – Property owners and managers who continually rent to habitual criminals will pay for their behavior under a new nuisance ordinance being considered by the Madeira Beach city commission.
The topic was on the agenda of a commission workshop meeting on Sept. 11.
The law imposes tough penalties on the owners of properties judged to be the site of chronic nuisance activities. A long list of nuisance behaviors is contained in the ordinance. Included are activities related to alcoholic beverages, prostitution, criminal mischief, theft, disorderly conduct, criminal gang activity, junked or wrecked property, and loitering or prowling.
Other offenses were added to the list on the advice of Neighborhood Watch leader Elaine Poe. There were harassment, assault, underage drinking, burglary, grand theft, domestic violence and robbery added.
Properties where three or more nuisance activities occur within a 30-day period or seven or more within a 6-week period would be judged to be nuisance properties.
Fines levied against owners of nuisance properties are considered ad valorem tax assessments and have to be paid like taxes, making them easier to collect, City Attorney Thomas Trask pointed out. The city commission will determine the fine amounts by resolution, he said.
Trask described the chronic nuisance ordinance, which is patterned after similar laws in West Palm Beach and Milwaukee as “pretty stringent.”
“This goes a step beyond what other cities are doing,” he said. “I am not aware of any other similar code in effect locally.”
Poe said the law is badly needed in her neighborhood and others in the city. She has “six years of records on well over 100 landlords” of nuisance properties in the city.
“We are interested in properties where there have been arrests,” Poe said. “We want to target landlords who keep renting to these people time after time. We’re in a vicious cycle and it has not improved in two years. We have to stop it and give the message ‘we don’t want these people in our community.’”
Community Policing Deputy Shawn Heffner said the law provides “the opportunity to hold landlords and tenants accountable for the tenants they put in (their building).”
“The police will do the enforcement,” he said.
The ordinance’s object is to get compliance by the landlords and property owners, not punishment, Vice Mayor Robin Vander Velde stressed.
“We want to educate them so they can make better choices about their tenants because bad tenants do not make good neighbors,” Vander Velde said. “The fines are a last resort.”
Kathy Behrmann, a resident, said she believes the nuisance ordinance is “an overkill” and not needed in a small town like Madeira Beach.
“We’re talking about a lot of paperwork. I don’t see the need for it,” she said. “Besides, the offenses described in the ordinance are not nuisances but crimes, which are the police’s responsibility,” said Behrmann.
David Dell, who described himself as both a landlord and tenant, said the nuisance ordinance is on the right track.
“We need to take this seriously,” Dell said, adding, “It would blow people’s minds what is going on in this city.”
The commission unanimously agreed to have the city attorney move forward with finalizing the chronic nuisance ordinance.