WEST ALEXANDRIA — West Alexandria Village Council discussed adopting an ordinance during its monthly meeting Monday, May 18, which would threaten landlords in the village with legal repercussions if their properties are repeatedly used in the sale or manufacture of illegal drugs.
This type of legal measure — known as a nuisance ordinance under Ohio law — targets “different types of criminal offenses which habitually take place at [certain] properties,” according to West Alexandria Police Chief Tony Gasper. Assistant Chief Mike McDonald presented council members with a copy of a similar ordinance adopted by the City of Eaton during last Monday’s meeting.
The owners of properties found in violation of these ordinances typically face a series of warnings and fines, according to Gasper, and can even lose the ability to continue renting the property for a period of time.
“I don’t know exactly how Eaton uses it,” Gasper said. “But I know Eaton has used it to shut down some drug houses here and there. After the landlord is forced to pay a fine, the people creating the issue are usually removed from the property.”
Gasper felt it was important to present council with the option of adopting such an ordinance because of the approaching summer weather, which usually leads to more activity of all types — including criminal activity.
“Typically, during the summer, some drug issues arise,” Gasper said. “This would be another tool for us to be able to shut that down as quickly as possible.”
The presence of drugs in the community can also lead to other types of crime, according to Gasper, including theft and assault.
“A lot of those can be put into check by alleviating drug offenses,” Gasper said. Gasper stressed that some landlords have already been approached in a less aggressive way.
“Some, through casual conversation, have been made aware of what’s going on,” Gasper said. “And some of those have been pretty cooperative about helping to take care of the problem. We just really wanted to run this by the council and see if it was something they were interested in.”
Assistant Chief McDonald worked as a police officer for the City of Dayton for many years.
“There are two kinds of landlords,” McDonald said. “Some who have a sense of social responsibility, and don’t want their tenants to be a nuisance to the larger community. And then there are some who just don’t care. This will give us the ability to reach out and touch them, and it’ll give us some leverage.”
McDonald thinks a nuisance ordinance could be much more effective in a town like West Alex than it would be in a larger city.
“In Dayton, you shut down a house and they go around the corner and get a new house,” McDonald said. “And in Dayton, the drug houses were obvious. It was like a convenience store, people in and out at all hours of the day. Here it’s much more subdued.”
McDonald said there are currently “four or five” drug houses operating in West Alex that police are aware of, some confirmed and others suspected. He stressed that it was important for the community not to become complacent.
“Drug dealers don’t have a newsletter, but they do talk to each other,” McDonald said. “And we don’t want it getting around that it’s easy to run a drug house in West Alex.”
“I think we absolutely need an ordinance,” McDonald continued. “If I’m a landlord, and I know I’ve got tenants who are selling drugs, do I mind paying a $100 fine if they only get caught every tenth or twentieth time?”
McDonald also said that the ordinance should allow the police to take quick action, rather than getting bogged down in endless warnings and fines.
“I don’t like that,” McDonald said. “I like, ‘If I find drugs, I’m shutting your house down.’” Whatever ordinance the village comes up with would have to include allowances for an appeal process, according to McDonald, who has sat on panels responsible for reviewing such appeals in the past.
McDonald said the response from council during last week’s meeting was encouraging, but that everyone involved still has a lot more work to do.
“The response seemed positive, but the bottom line is that we’re still in the embryonic stages,” he said.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish