The Yuma County Board of Supervisors nixed a so-called “slumlord ordinance” after staff asked for direction on possible development of proposed rental property regulations.
The action was in reaction to the longtime and ongoing case involving Bann Mobile Home Park for violation of several zoning codes, including junk on the property. After no response from the property owner, the county attorney is seeking an order of abatement from Superior Court and is waiting to have the case heard.
A state law allows counties to have properties declared slums and apply to Superior Court to have rental properties placed in receivership for up to 12 months at a time.
A slum property is defined as residential rental property that has deteriorated or is a state of disrepair and that manifests one or more of the following conditions: Structurally unsound exterior surfaces, roof, walls, doors, floors, stairwells, porches or railings; lack of potable water, adequate sanitation facilities, adequate water or waste pipe connections; hazardous electrical systems or gas connections; lack of safe, rapid egress; and accumulation of human or animal waste, medical or biological waste, gaseous or combustible materials, dangerous or corrosive liquids, flammable or explosive materials or drug paraphernalia.
Craig Sellers, the county’s director of development services, explained the proposed ordinance. If the supervisors are interested in enforcing this state law in Yuma County, they would have to adopt a residential rental property ordinance, establish and appoint hearing officers to declare slums and an appeal process.
In addition, the county would need the budget to fund receiverships.
Similar to the zoning violation process, a complaint would be made and investigated by staff. If the complaint is found to have merit, it would be forwarded to the hearing officer for a public hearing and determination.
The rental owner would then have the right to appeal to the Board of Supervisors. If no action is taken by the rental owner, staff would recommend the board apply to Superior Court for the property to be placed in receivership.
He emphasized that a receivership would be temporary. “This is not a permanent fix for properties that are in disrepair.”
However, ordinance enforcement would require additional staff in a department that is already understaffed, in addition to at least a part-time attorney. “I don’t have the staff to take on an entirely different segment of the economy,” Sellers said.
Currently, the zoning ordinance that addresses “junky” properties requires “due diligence,” which means it could take years to clean up properties.
“So neither one of these would be ‘we see it and tomorrow is taken care of’ or ‘next week is taken care of.’ We’re dealing with people’s property rights and business rights to operate their business,” Sellers said.
With the proposed ordinance, once a case goes to Superior Court, the county is looking to remove the owner from the operations of the business, for example, in the case of a trailer park, and place it in the hands of a management company which would have to be paid for those services.
“We’re going to want the payment to be taking place and there’s going to be limited income coming from the property. And so for all that to happen, there’s going to need to be an influx of money going into that process as well,” Sellers noted.
“And in the end, the property always goes back to the owner and what is to prevent them from letting it fall back into disrepair after the work has been done?” he added.
Supervisor Lynne Pancrazi asked County Attorney Jon Smith whether there was a way to speed up the current process. “I think that the process we have right now is affordable and attainable,” Pancrazi said.
“I think it just takes this long with the requirements of due process of the property owners,” Smith noted.
Pancrazi also asked about “beefing” up fees for violations as a motivation for cleaning up properties. “I mean, some of these people are paying 20 bucks a month or $50 a month, and they could pay that forever and ever, ever, ever, ever and it takes six years or eight years or 10 years. Is there any way we can do additional violations as we’re doing that so that 50 bucks a month becomes 500 bucks a month,” she said.
“Because to me that would increase their due diligence. Money talks and if it’s going to cost them more money, then they’re going to clean it up and get it straightened out,” she added.
Smith noted that the county is looking for voluntary compliance and often gets it, but there are occasions when a property owner either can’t or won’t pay it.
“And really we don’t have debtors prisons in the state and in the country. And what happens is unless you have a judge who’s willing to do an order, show cause and place some type of civil disposition of being held until that fine is paid, which we’ve done in the past with restitution – we had a restitution court for a while and it’s still somewhat active – you’re just going to be adding more fines to a problem and it doesn’t fix what the problem is right away,” he explained.
“These are very difficult cases because they involve people who own property and for whatever reason, whether it be because they’re physically unable to take care of it or they choose not to. It just doesn’t get taken care of but most of the time we do look for and get voluntary compliance once that is brought to the attention of the landowner. There’s just those few occasions where it doesn’t happen,” Smith added.
Supervisor Tony Reyes nixed the idea of the county taking over trailer parks. “As a county, I don’t want to own a mobile home park. I don’t want to be in charge of managing it … because we’re not set up this way. We’re not set up to handle this thing.”
In the end, he noted, taking over properties and cleaning them up might still not solve the problem in the long term. “My experience as a former mayor of a small town, we had a mobile home park in the middle of town. When I tried to fix it, we ended up with a bunch of people that were homeless because the guy didn’t want to work. So we had like 50 families that didn’t have a place to go because we stepped in and tried to clean it up. So the solution can sometimes be worse than the problem,” Reyes said.
Pancrazi acknowledged that the current process can work without adding more staff and using more taxpayer money.
After learning that the county receives one or two “slumlord” complaints a year, Chairman Martin Porchas noted that the solution might be, as Pancrazi suggested, to raise the fines as well as stricter enforcement.
Supervisor Darren Simmons agreed, suggesting that the county “tweak” the current process to “move it along quicker” with stricter enforcement and bigger fines so it doesn’t take years.
By MARA KNAUB SUN STAFF WRITER www.yumasun.com
2024-01-07 11:30:00 , www.yumasun.com – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article