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Marengo aldermen wait on ‘chronic nuisance’ proposal

Aldermen: Ordinance aimed at problem landlords, tenants needs more research

Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 12:14 a.m. CDT

MARENGO – A proposal that would give Marengo officials an added tool in dealing with landlords with properties frequented by police and building inspectors needs more research, aldermen recently decided.

After hearing from a constituent about a similar ordinance passed in Harvard, Ward Three alderwoman Gretchen Samuelson on Monday proposed a “chronic nuisance” ordinance that would require landlords and their tenants to work with a new housing board on stopping repeat violations.

But a few aldermen questioned the need for the ordinance and whether it would mean too much government intrusion on conflicts between owners and tenants. The city’s public works director also doubted that his department has the manpower to enforce the tool.

“The chronic nuisance ordinance could potentially enhance our current ordinances by facilitating additional security and the quality of life for the neighborhoods,” Samuelson said.

Under the proposal, landlords or tenants who cause at least three nuisances within a 120-day period could be called to a housing board to create an “abatement plan,” a variety of remedies designed to stop the issues.

Numerous zoning and property maintenance violations, disorderly conduct citations, and any felony or Class A misdemeanor crimes at a property would qualify as a nuisance under the proposal.

Remedies could include the city assisting with evicting tenants, requiring owners to do repairs and banning individuals who are not tenants from a particular property. Any person or owner who fails to comply could face at least a $500 fine, the proposal states.

Property owners or managers would be able to contest alleged violations during a hearing overseen by the housing board, which would include the mayor, police chief and public works director.

Inside City Hall on Monday, many aldermen had mixed reactions to the proposal.

Both City Council members from Ward Two questioned if Marengo even had a chronic problem with property owners and managers. City staff determined that three to four properties a year on average could be defined as chronic nuisances within Marengo.

“That doesn’t sound like an excessive amount,” said Ward Two alderwoman Carole Bartman.

Ward Two alderman Matt Keenum also questioned whether the new ordinance would give the city too much authority in addressing problem neighborhoods.

“It starts to sound like Big Brother can march in and do whatever he wants,” Keenum said.

The new ordinance, meanwhile, could stretch a public works department that has been forced to wear “a lot of hats” lately because of cutbacks and attrition in recent years, said Public Works Director Jayson Shull.

He also warned aldermen that the department could already be issuing more building violations if it had more resources.

“Whether it’s laws or codes, the ability to enforce those to the letter of the law does require time and staff,” Shull said. “If we allocate staff to this particular [ordinance], other things will have to be sacrificed.”

Amid the questions, aldermen decided the proposal needed more research, including an analysis on how area communities have addressed similar nuisances. The proposal could return to the council within the next month for a vote, city officials said.

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