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Ordinance calls for fines on 'nuisance properties'

October 11, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

HAGERSTOWN - City properties frequently visited by police responding to calls could start yielding fines for their owners under a new ordinance reviewed Tuesday by the Hagerstown City Council.

Deemed "nuisance properties," fines are assessed on a scale that escalates to $500 for each disturbance call. Disturbances include disorderly conduct, loud noise, prostitution and liquor law violations in the draft ordinance.

Commercial properties with 20 or more calls in six months could be placed on probationary nuisance status, which is the precursor to fines and liens on the property. Residential properties qualify at 10 or more calls and multi-family units at 25 or more calls to the Hagerstown Police Department.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said he might return to the council in the future to request the status be applied after fewer calls.

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The ordinance is set to be introduced at the council's Oct. 24 voting session.

The ordinance also includes drug and paraphernalia violations, disturbing the peace, littering, loitering, public urination, indecent exposure and "undesirable, intoxicated or suspicious person."

Care was taken to exclude incidents triggered by domestic violence, Smith said.

Properties included in the ordinance are those that are privately owned and within the corporate limits. Public and government properties are excluded.

Property owners would be contacted by mail, notifying them they are on probationary nuisance status. That status remains in effect for a year, according to the draft ordinance.

The property owners could approach a three-person panel with evidence of eviction of repeat offenders, Smith said. The program would give the property owners "an extra incentive to do the right thing" and evict, he said.

"The same residents who are causing the nuisances often don't pay their rent on time," Smith said.

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