Laws with teeth
East Carbon gets serious about owners, tenants of 'unkempt properties'
Property issues continue to be at the forefront of city business in East Carbon as local officials are now considering the first of what promises to be many changes to the city's nuisance laws.
If ratified, the new ordinance would compel those who are ticketed to appear in municipal court rather than simply pay a fine. This initial move ultimately will bring property owners face-to-face with city officials who have vowed to make a change in the way local homes and yards are cared for.
"I am looking out for the members of this community, that is what I was elected to do," said council member David Maggio, who has taken a large interest in this issue. "There has to be a change and if that means increasing the consequences for unkempt property, then so be it."
According to Maggio, most of the time somebody passes away, their children either have their own homes or can't afford to keep the property which has been left to them.
"So they get what they can for these houses and one of two things happen," said Maggio.
"Either they become slum lord rental units or they are sold to someone who isn't capable of taking care of the property themselves."
Since the beginning of this issue, Maggio has held firm in his position that a big change needs to be made within the city. However, it is important to note that his comments in the Tuesday Sun Advocate were specifically aimed at several renters which had left large messes when they vacated the city, not all of those who rent in East Carbon.
Several of the area's property owners see this distinction as too little, too late.
"I don't have a problem with the new ordinance and I don't have any problems with cleaning the town up," said Roger Bunn, who owns seven local properties and manages more than 25. "And if you go past my properties you will see that they are cleaned up, this is my community as well, as I have chosen to live here."
Currently, most of Bunn's properties are being rented and while he did stipulate that some of them could definitely use a coat of paint, he considers them to be in as good condition as many of the owner-occupied homes in the community.
"From a rental owner's perspective, the real problem is that you can't rent a home for $400 a month and expect that an executive is going to live there," said Bunn. "These are just regular everyday people. One of the things I love about being a landlord here is that I do feel a responsibility to my renters and I help them. However, I don't have the constitutional right to tell a person how to clean their own home."
Council member Maggio has a different perspective concerning even the financial end of this issue. He has stated on numerous occasions that nicer homes with newer appliances and amenities would bring in renters looking to spend a little more.
Don Hicken, who owns properties in both Sunnyside and East Carbon, also has strong opinions concerning the way the city is handling this issue. Hicken asked via email if council member Maggio thought that being compelled to appear in court, in a distant city, over the actions of another person might dampen the interest of possible investors.
Hicken took issue with several comments made by Maggio in Tuesday's article, inquiring as to his thoughts concerning the civil rights of both landlords and their tenants. He also asked if Maggio favored the possibility of granting certain policing powers to landlords, including the right to summary eviction.
Both Hicken and Bunn reported an interest in seeing steeper and more strict penalties for those who rent the houses rather than the brunt falling on the landlord.
"While I agree with the ordinance they proposed last night, I do think there should be harsher penalties for the renters who are in these properties. Once their rent is paid, I can't just come in and do what I want to clean up their yard," he explained. "These are not children or elderly people who are not able to clean their property. These are people who are capable."
While many associated with this issue have stated that those living at the property should be responsible to care for it, in many instances compelling that care is impossible.
"Problems with renters is an ongoing problem. If we can fix this with the land owner, we are getting closer to a solution with some staying power," said Maggio. "Because when the renter skips town, someone has to be responsible."
For their part, both Bunn and Hicken have stated that their monetary investment in their properties along with ongoing repairs should hold some weight with the council. For Bunn especially, he feels he has worked with the city.
"I have assisted the East Carbon police in ridding this community of drug use at the properties I own," said Bunn, while recounting his role in a large bust within the city. "I have also evicted renters myself due to problems with the way they cared for their property. This is my community as well and I don't want this to get out of hand between the council and owners within the city."
For his part, Hicken also took exception with comments made by Planning and Zoning director Liz Ferguson. Specifically, the fact that she had been dealing with problems stemming from a rental unit for a year.
"I want to know if she had filed complaints within the existing nuisance ordinance before the end of March?" asked Hicken. "And is she after punishment or justice and is justice not available through the ordinance which already exists?"
Liz has stated that the current ordinance is not enough.
"The ordinance Liz provided to us will provide the leverage we need to clean this problem up and that is the direction we are headed," concluded Maggio.