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Newark looks to crack down on 'nuisance' properties

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Main Street in Newark

The City of Newark wants to crack down on “nuisance” properties.

City Council members are looking for a legislative solution to prevent repeated code violations at properties they say are a nuisance to the community.

City Councilman Chris Hamilton says he voted against a measure to strengthen code enforcement on rental properties several years ago — and has regretted it since. 

“There are an awful lot of good landlords—and property owners, this is not just about landlords. And yet we have areas of our city that are under attack,” Hamilton said. “I don’t use that lightly. It seems that some areas of the city get taken over by folks that don’t care for their properties.”

Newark Property Maintenance Inspector Ryan Straub told Council Monday that some properties rack up repeated violations and do not respond to enforcement, including fines.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to affect them,” Straub said. “If we could get something in place that would kind of help give us teeth, whether the fine goes up, or what.”

Straub listed unkempt grass, litter and indoor furniture being kept outside among the most common offenses. 

Councilman Jason Lawson said he wants data from code enforcement officials to inform future legislation. 

“I think it’s important that we get that definition up front of what are the problems we’re trying to fix— whether it’s commercial, rental—focus in on what are the real problems that we have,” he said. 

A draft ordinance, based on one the Town of Elkton recently adopted, would make it a misdemeanor to own or rent a property deemed a public nuisance. It would also establish penalties, including incarceration, for the same violation occurring within a year of the first, or three different nuisance violations within one year. It would allow the City to impose a lien on the nuisance property for the costs incurred in dealing with it, and seek a Public Nuisance Receivership over the offending property if the nuisance persists. 

The proposal would also allow for condemnation or demolition of unsafe and abandoned structures, or for appointment of a receiver charged with either rehabilitating or demolishing abandoned or condemned properties. 

City Solicitor Paul Bilodeau framed the draft ordinance as an “opener” for public discussion, and noted it may overlap with existing code provisions. 

One landlord spoke out against the proposal Monday. 

Jonathan Daigle, who lives in Georgia and owns three properties in Delaware, including a rental property in Newark, argued it would invite costly lawsuits against the City. 

“It is not legal to hold me responsible for the actions of my tenants,” Daigle’s written comment, read by a City official, stated. “If they rob a bank, am I somehow an accessory to the crime?”

Other Council members and Mayor Jerry Clifton support the effort to increase consequences for nuisance properties, and recommend a process of public engagement as the City develops final legislation.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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