Nuisance Ordinance Pesters Charleston Council

October 25, 2010

Inside Insight

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The NerveWill the amended “nuisance” ordinance ever be put to bed? It has been before the Charleston City Council three times and is scheduled to come up at the next meeting, as well.

Council members did have a copy of a proposed amendment during the Oct. 12 meeting but it seemed that the amendment still was not satisfactory to Councilman Michael Seekings, who led in shaping the original amendment.

Another amendment was proposed and circulated by the Seekings, and this was followed by yet another that was circulated during the meeting.

This was too much for Councilman James Lewis Jr., who was clearly exasperated by the confusion. He called for a deferral and there was no doubt that he had the immediate support of most, if not all, council members.

Lewis pointed out that it was not right for City Council to vote on something it had not been able to fully consider. Likewise, the public had no opportunity to review the final amendment.

By way of background, the first reading of the “nuisance” ordinance occurred three meetings ago. In the public hearing, there were only a few speakers addressing the issue and all were in support.

In its original form, the amended ordinance made property managers and owners liable for the transgression of tenants when it related to trash and noise. However, both property managers and owners only became liable after they became aware of the problems and failed to do something about them.

At the first hearing, City Council approved the amendment with little discussion and no dissention. The ordinance was aimed at cleaning up the area around the College of Charleston where a large number of student renters reside.

According to folks from Radcliffborough and Harleston Village, many students were disregarding city regulations regarding trash and garbage disposal, and affecting the quality of life of other residents.

It was a harsh judgment of the residents of Harleston Village and Radcliffborough. But nobody questioned their judgment – either council members or the many individuals that ultimately came to subsequent meetings to speak against the proposed amendment.

Some of the latter sympathized with the city’s intent but thought that the net that the city proposed would catch more than disinterested property managers and owners.

Some thought it was unfair for the latter to be responsible for the sins of others, that the penalties were out of proportion for the infringement, and that managers and owners did not always have the power to take effective action against tenants.

Here is the last printed amendment circulated to City Council:

“It shall be unlawful; for a non-resident owner, after receiving actual notice of the existence of a public nuisance on the non-resident owner’s property, to contribute to, maintain, or permit the public nuisance or its continuation thereof on the non-resident owner’s property. A non-resident owner shall mean an owner of property who does not reside on the property where the public nuisance exists.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26.

Marc Knapp is a contractor specializing in heavy underground utilities and the owner of Charleston Site Utilities.