Monmouth nuisance ordinance put on hold

Proposal divides council

MONMOUTH -- A decision on whether to approve -- or reject -- a proposal to strengthen Monmouth's chronic nuisance property ordinance has been delayed until next month.

The move follows division on the issue at an April 5 city council meeting.

Council members voted 4 to 2 in favor of amending the law and imposing harsher restrictions on violators.

But because the ordinance carried an emergency provision so changes could be implemented immediately, it required unanimous approval.

Councilors Marc Miller and Steve Milligan opposed the new measures.

The matter will be decided by majority vote May 4.

As the ordinance stands now, the city can proceed with legal action against owners and renters of a property that has received three public nuisance warnings from police during a 60-day period.

Under the proposal, that property could be declared a chronic nuisance after only two violations and the window in which those incidents could take place would double from 60 days to 120.

The changes are among several options the city is looking at to decrease the noise, party and other disturbances at the heart of the conflict between Monmouth homeowners and student renters.

This is the second time a decision on the ordinance has been delayed. At a March council meeting, members postponed a vote to give those in the real estate business more time to alert their tenants of possible changes and to make certain that no renter/tenant agreements were being infringed upon.

Miller said he decided to vote against the proposal after hearing the opinions of some citizens and property managers. He also said statistics from the police department made him question the necessity of harsher restrictions.

Since the chronic nuisance ordinance was adopted in 2002, there have been 87 warnings sent by the city to property owners warning of a violation, according to Police Chief Darrell Tallan.

Of those 87, six were for second incidents and only one was for a third within the 60-day period.

"It seems to be natural at that first level where somebody gets hit once with a warning, they don't violate again," Miller said. "Based on this data, there doesn't appear to be an inordinate amount of citizens who are being cited twice on the chronic nuisance ordinance.

Miller said because of a low tally of incidents related to the nuisance law during the past three years, he didn't feel it was necessary to alter the ordinance by "lowering the bar."

He also said more patrols in problem areas such as Griffin Estates have helped lower the number of party disturbance calls recently. Last year, police made 98 arrests on 160 party-related incidents.

"The large gatherings might have gone down in Griffin Estates because of patrols," Councilor Jack Scheirman acknowledged, "but now it's starting to migrate into other areas of town."

Councilor Kenn Lehto said that even though the number of cases involving two or three violations was low, he'd heard testimony from homeowners suggesting that people simply move parties and large gatherings to different homes as a means of escaping multiple citations.

"It's nice to see that there were only a few citations, but maybe by strengthening our ordinance, we can make that number disappear completely," he said.

Brian Sparks, who manages property in Griffin Estates, said he supported increasing the window to report offenders from 60 to 120 days, but not lowering the violation limit to two, a suggestion Milligan offered to fellow council members.

Sparks said that many property managers already have a two-strike policy with tenants.

"Property managers have to have that because they have a legal responsibility to protect the financial interests of the owner of the property," he said.

Asked whether he'd take the same voting stance in May, Miller said: "I'll leave that to the next meeting."


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