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Letters target drug houses

August 20, 2000

Letters target drug houses



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


Letters are being sent this week to owners and occupants of more than 30 houses in Hagerstown where drugs have been found, warning them to clean up their acts or possibly lose their properties.

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The letters detail the problem and warn the owner or occupant to work with police to stop it or face possible court action that could lead to their homes being torn down, according to Assistant State's Attorney Joe Michael.

Authorities will be focusing on properties where police have purchased or found drugs since Jan. 1. There have been at least 50 drug raids in Hagerstown since the first.

The letters are being sent under a state law that allows authorities to declare certain properties nuisances.

The individual approach allows solutions to be tailor-made to fit each particular situation, said Michael.

Police will work with property owners to develop a plan to stop the nuisance. It the plan is ignored, a property owner can be taken to court and forced to tear down the property at his or her own expense, Michael said.

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If an owner has tenants buying or selling drugs on his property, they must be evicted, Michael said.

Authorities aren't focusing on one area of Washington County, he said. "It could apply potentially to every property - drugs cut across our community, not just the HotSpot," he said. HotSpots are noted high crime areas.

Michael said local code enforcement officers also will be made aware of nuisance situations and be advised to monitor code violations at the properties.

Owners of government-subsidized properties will be required to do criminal background checks on prospective tenants as part of the nuisance abatement plan, he said.

The nuisance abatement law has been on the books for more 10 years but has not been used locally until now, said Michael.

Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith said he saw some properties torn down under the law in his old job in Baltimore.

He said the law is another tool that will help authorities fight the drug trade in Washington County.

It will make a difference when combined with drug and prostitution stings, drug raids and public housing evictions, he said.

"We're not trying to punish landlords. We trying to prevail upon them to act responsibly," he said.

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