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Spencer puts hold on talk about rental ordinance

SPENCER — The Spencer Board of Aldermen on Tuesday agreed to recess a public hearing on a proposed rental ordinance.

The ordinance would hold landlords accountable for difficult tenants. It is modeled after similar policies — including one in Salisbury — and would authorize Spencer police officers to keep track of how many times they are called to specific rental properties occupied by the same tenant within a 12-month period.

Certain calls, such as for drug-related activity and assaults that directly involve the tenant, would count against the property on a point-based system — operating much the same way as points on a driver’s license. The calls would be weighted based on severity, and some crimes — such as gun violence — would result in instant intervention.

Domestic violence calls would not be considered a disorder call.

Once a property reaches a “halfway point,” the town would send a warning letter to the landlord. If a property accrues 10 points within 12 months, the town would take action.

The town would call a mandatory remediation meeting with the landlord, who would have a chance to dispute each incident. If the landlord could prove the problem was not the fault of or did not directly involve the tenant, the points would be removed.

If by the end of the meeting the property still had 10 points, the landlord would be required to begin a remedial action plan and be issued a rental permit. The landlord would then have six months to carry out the plan to the satisfaction of the town.

If the property fell below the point threshold (less than 10 points in the past 365 days) at a six-month review, the landlord would be given a certificate of compliance. If the property is still out of compliance, another six-month review would be set.

Properties that fall below the threshold would be cleared. If the landlord evicted the tenant involved in the disturbance calls, the property’s point level would return to zero. If the landlord is not cooperative, the town would revoke the rental permit, and the town would go to court to remove the tenant.

The text of the proposed ordinance has been available at Town Hall for the past 30 days. It is also posted online on the town’s website. Land Management Director Troy Powell told the board that several information sessions were held after work hours for Spencer residents but no one showed up.

Despite that, the ordinance is a move that residents at Tuesday’s meeting said they largely support.

“I think that this is an excellent step in the right direction,” Jetana Patterson said.

“I am totally, 150 percent for this ordinance,” Patsy Duncan said.

According to commenters, the ordinance would clear up areas and behaviors many local residents have bristled at for years. However, they did have several questions. They wanted to know why domestic violence calls would not be counted, clarification on the violations threshold and other points. Some commenters even corrected typos.

After some back and forth in public comment, town staff members requested that the board recess the hearing so that they could look at tweaking the violation threshold to be more appropriate for the town.

Alderman Kevin Jones, however, wasn’t so sure. Landlords had already looked at the ordinance, he said, so changing anything now and then approving it without their consent would not be right.

“That seems kind of deceitful,” Jones said.

Powell said the town would send out notices and that the amended ordinance would be available online. The hearing will pick up where it left off, giving residents another opportunity to voice their opinions.

The board agreed. The public hearing will resume at the board’s Nov. 13 meeting.

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