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Madeira Beach's new nuisance ban may lead to evictions

MADEIRA BEACH — Criminals, beware: You are not wanted in this beach city.

A new ordinance passed unanimously by the commission Tuesday gives the city the power to force landlords, whether business or residential, to evict tenants who are repeatedly arrested in connection with crimes involving drugs, prostitution, gang activity and stolen property.

In addition, the city is targeting pain management clinics that are used for illegal drug distribution, burglary, theft, robbery, home invasions, carjacking, and assault and battery.

Interim City Manager Jim Madden said Friday the city is gathering arrest records from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to compile lists of properties where tenants — or owners — have been arrested more than twice in the past six months for the targeted crimes.

The ordinance allows the city's special magistrate to fine property owners up to $500 a day, or even force the closure of a building, depending on the frequency and severity of the violations, until the declared nuisance is eliminated.

"We want to help landlords to get good tenants," Madden said.

That might include changing the wording in leases to prohibit criminal activity and encourage better screening of prospective tenants.

Madden said he worked closely with the Sheriff's Office, the city's special magistrate and City Attorney Tom Trask to make sure enforcement of the new ordinance is well coordinated.

"It will take all three to make it work," Madden said.

The nuisance ordinance does not require a conviction for criminal activity, only the indication that it may be occurring, Madden said.

"Convictions take such a long time to happen, we would never be able to use the ordinance. Certainly a neighborhood is disrupted if police are there arresting people a couple of times," he said.

Once the city obtains arrest reports, Madden said property owners will be sent a warning on the first and second occasions. A third arrest would trigger the special magistrate process.

Madden estimated the first cases would appear before the special magistrate by February.

Meanwhile, the city is actively cracking down on noncriminal property violations.

In the past month, the city's new code compliance officer, Jim Cyr, investigated and acted on more than 50 code enforcement cases.

Most involve uncut grass, usually at foreclosed homes.

Madden estimates there are about 140 foreclosed properties in the city, but not all are vacant.

In some cases, neighbors mow the empty properties to keep their neighborhoods "nice," he said.

When necessary, the city cuts the grass and charges a $250 administrative fee, plus actual mowing costs.

Some banks work with the city to keep up the appearance of foreclosed properties, but others do not and incur continuing fines and fees, Madden said.

Warnings and citations also are issued for trash in yards and unregistered vehicles parked in driveways or on lawns.

"This sort of thing snowballs into situations where the neighborhood becomes run down, and that attracts tenants who are less than neighborly," Madden said.

He said the "two-pronged approach" is designed to address the city's physical environment and safety needs.

"I will be very interested in seeing how this all works," Madden said.

Madeira Beach's new nuisance ban may lead to evictions 12/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:31am]
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