City Council bucks Mayor Ireton on rentals issue

To the disappointment of Mayor Jim Ireton, the Salisbury City Council didn’t accept his detailed proposed to fight neighborhood blight.

After a lengthy discussion at a work session Monday, Vice President Laura Mitchell, running the meeting in the absence of Council President Jake Day, said council members’ remarks made it clear they wouldn’t support the mayor’s request.

Ireton, appearing before the City Council with Susan Phillips, director of neighborhood services and code compliance,  asked council members to bring rental owners into compliance with the city’s 4 to 2 law.

In a news release issued earlier, Ireton called for “amortization of houses which had previously been granted exemption as 4-3 and 4-4 dwellings under the city’s 4 to 2 law, a budget amendment establishing a fund for purchasing derelict properties at tax sale and a discussion of a proposed community development initiative for combating blight in Salisbury.”

“The bill would establish an amortization period for dwellings which were granted a 4-3 or 4-4 exemption,” he said.

Discussion ensued and comments from the audience heard, then Mitchell  asked  council members if they wanted additional information or to find a different solution.

Councilman Jack Heath said he prefers solving problems by bringing people together, having multiple solutions and a Plan B. Ireton said he feared that philosophy will lead to a Plans C and D before a solution is reached.

Heath said the council has implemented “tougher rules and regulations” and Salisbury University officials have “laid as heavy a hand as they can on the students over there.” Many housing complaints are about college students’ misbehavior, destructiveness, noise, parties and trash.

Heath said last September there were 45 complaints and since then there have been six more. He said the police department has a task force to check on parties and it has resulted in fewer problems.

Heath suggested making fines high enough to “be painful” for landlords who don’t comply.

“Let’s not forget the impact of the university and students on the economy and the city of Salisbury … let’s not underestimate it,” Heath added.

Councilwoman Shanie Shields said it’s necessary to “sit down and talk, then you can respect each other’s points of view … and come to some kind of solution and keep on talking.”

Shields said targeting college students “by passing this amortization ordinance is unfair.”

“You have a three-bedroom home, why can’t three people live there?” she said, adding she won’t support trying to legislate behavior.

“If someone calls the police department, that’s what the police department is for,” she said. She suggested a penalty on students who misbehave, such as being expelled from the university.

Mitchell said Ireton’s proposal “doesn’t deal with rentals or other properties, except those that have exemptions.”

Ireton said he and Phillips “will try to come up with some models for you.”

Meantime, he worried that houses where there are loud parties, disrespectful youth and drunkenness will lower  property values and increase police calls.

“It is the administration’s position that bringing these properties into compliance with the already-existing 4-2 law is a necessary step in preserving the integrity of neighborhoods which look more and more like dormitories every day … Every day that we allow them to essentially skirt the spirit of the law is another day of damage done to neighborhoods which have suffered enough already,” he said.

Phillips said she receives many complaints.

“I get the calls from the neighbors who are almost in tears over the actions of the neighbors. I get them. I’ve been dealing with occupancy complaints since I’ve been in my capacity. I hear how upset they are. They have lived there for many years. Some of them are born and raised in those neighborhoods and they are very upset,” she said.

A homeowner who was in the audience asked the council to consider the mayor’s proposal and “control this right now.”

Resident Louise Nock said she wonders if the problem of rowdy students will ever end. “I have rights, too, and I was there first,” she said.

Sarah Showell, a landlord who rents to students, said any landlord who rents to those whose behavior lowers  property values “should not be allowed to run a business in the middle of the neighborhood.”

“It is up to the landlord,” she said, to be sure grass is cut, properties are maintained and trash is not in the yard. She said noncompliant landlords should lose the right to rent, but that meticulous landlords should not be affected by legislation.


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