(Oct. 5, 2017) The Pocomoke City Council will form an advisory committee to examine three ordinances related to rental properties, following a lengthy discussion with numerous landlords during its meeting on Monday.
Last month the council held first readings on ordinances to create a rental registration program, establish a fee schedule for the city to remove bulk items left outside following evictions and define placement of empty trashcans.
Rental property owner Guy Dean questioned the abruptness of the proposals.
“I think nine or 10 months ago the city agreed to put this whole thing on hold,” he said. “Now, all of a sudden it’s turned into a priority. I’d like to know why the city has changed their posturing.”
Mayor Bruce Morrison corrected Dean, noting the earlier discussion was more than a year ago.
“It was shoved down your throats and I kind of backed off on it because of the way it was handled,” he said.
In the interim, Morrison said he was given the impression numerous landlords would contribute to improve aesthetics in town.
“It’s not happened [and] it’s getting worse,” he said. “Day by day, this city looks like crap and I’m sick of it.”
Morrison said much of the problems stem from property owners not in attendance at the meeting.
“There [are] people out there abusing us, using us and treating us like crap,” he said. “We’re the only town on the whole Eastern Shore that doesn’t have some kind of code enforcement.”
Dan Brandewie, housing and zoning coordinator, explained ordinance 433 would add a chapter to the city code addressing rental properties. The ordinance would have required landlords to register rentals with the city for a proposed fee of $25, which would be renewed yearly.
“It would not include owner-occupied single family residences,” he said.
Rental owner Faye Fair expressed concern about the inclusion of a 60-day time frame to register properties, which Morrison said could be adjusted.
“We’re not tying to break you or hurt you,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is … finally get some regulations involved.”
Fair reiterated her concern the council would approve the ordinance as currently written on second reading that evening.
“The tone of the meeting is very negative,” she said. “If you want us to be on board with you to help you clean up this city, this isn’t the way to go about it.”
Brandewie said the ordinance would allow the city to compile a roster of landlords to contact when issues arise.
“I believe 60 or 70 percent of our problems can be solved with a phone call,” he said. “If we don’t know who to call, problems can’t be solved.”
Except in extreme cases, Morrison said, the city would not inspect the insides of homes.
“If we see broken-out windows or trash hanging out, then we have probable cause for us to go inside and inspect it,” he said. “We’re not going to go inside a building, unless we find cause.”
Ideally, Morrison said lines of communication would be established between landlords and the city whenever evictions occur.
“I think the first thing you do is call our code enforcement officer,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is get this stuff fixed and cleaned up.”
Dean suggested putting the proposals on hold until a landlord committee could be formed to examine the ordinance language.
“I know something needs to be done and it’s inevitable it will be done at some point,” he said. “A lot of the people out here feel this thing is being ramrodded down their throat.”
Councilmember George Tasker, while acknowledging the landlords in attendance were not the problem, seconded a motion to table the matter for a month and revisit the discussion during the council’s meeting on Nov. 6.
“The thing is if you put a bad apple in the middle of a bushel … that’s going to ruin everything,” he said. “It’s like everything else in this world, we have to pay for a lot of things that somebody else started doing wrong.”
Morrison said the yet-to-be-formed committee would need to give feedback to City Manager Bobby Cowger.
“We are going to pass something,” he said.
Based on discussions with a number of mayors throughout the state, Morrison said he was told introducing standards for rental housing was typically met with resistance.
“The first time you do it you’re going to have landlords coming down on you, [but] you’ve got to hold your ground,” he said. “Once it’s in place, you’ll see everybody be happy.”