Honesdale Mayor Derek Williams: Eviction policy is discriminatory, favors homeowners

Honesdale Mayor Derek Williams says the borough's current eviction policy discriminates against renters, while homeowners exhibiting similar problems do not get the same treatment.

The discussion arose at the Jan. 22 council meeting, when councilor David Nilsen asked on behalf of the Zoning Committee that "disruptive conduct" reports be provided by the police chief to the council through the zoning office.

These reports allow for eviction of a tenant if the tenant receives three documented reports within 12 months that have been investigated by the police. Each report is shared by the police with the code enforcement officer, Honesdale's code states. The owner or agent has 10 working days from the date of receiving the notice to begin eviction proceedings against the occupants. Failure to take such action will result in the immediate revocation of the residential rental license.

The way the zoning ordinance is currently written, Williams said, if there are three documented disorderly conduct incidents, the borough can supersede any other rights of the resident or the landowner and evict the tenant.

"That seems problematic to me," the mayor said.

Nilsen said the ordinance is written more for absentee landlords. "There are a lot of landlords in the borough that are not present, or they don't have... individuals to watch their property, or if they do, they are doing a poor job."

Nilsen called the ordinance a "fail-safe" "to prevent disruptive conduct and to increase the quality of life for our residents." Council President James Brennan asked why neighbors do not just call the police if someone is being disruptive. Nilsen said they do, but this ordinance is a resource the borough has.

Honesdale Borough Council President James L. Brennan Jr. at council's Jan. 22, 2024, meeting.
Honesdale Borough Council President James L. Brennan Jr. at council's Jan. 22, 2024, meeting.

Councilor Noelle Mundy asked if the tenant is automatic evicted if there are "three strikes against them" or if the borough treats it on a case-by-case basis. She noted there may be a tenant doing something dangerous, putting neighboring occupants at risk, versus someone whose yard or house is unkept.

Councilor James Hamill said the ordinance was enacted so that if a landlord was not acting to address a situation, there is a party that will act. He referred to a recent situation with a tenant's dogs where there was concern with a bus stop in the area. Hamill said of course there are cases where the ordinance does not apply, but in this example the neighborhood was on edge. "It would seem that if it is in place, we should be utilizing it depending on the merits of the case," Hamill said.

The mayor interjected, "The way things are written and may be applied, there is not a similar standard for property owners who could be creating an equal nuisance. So that is where you could potentially have a discriminatory way to enforce something against renters only."

Councilor Jason Newbon agreed. He imagined a scenario where one neighbor owns his property, and the other is a renter. They can both be committing the same infraction, but the renter must go, and the homeowner gets to stay. "That seems discriminatory," he said.

Homeowners, however, are subject to the Property Maintenance Code, Nilsen said. "There are violations you can receive as a property owner... The renter actually has it easier, he can just go somewhere else, but you as the owner you have tons of bills and he has to fix it," Nilsen said.

Brennan suggested that the borough makes it too easy for a landlord to evict a tenant. "We have this basically to be able to evict tenants on their behalf," Mayor Williams replied. "That would be a little too easy I think."

Solicitor Richard Henry said the rule was written to address nuisance properties and nuisance tenants. Brennan asked Henry to review the ordnance more thoroughly. The matter was referred to the borough Public Safety Committee.

"Disruptive conduct" is defined by the borough code as "Any form of conduct, action, incident or behavior perpetrated, caused or permitted by any occupant or visitor of a residential rental unit that is so loud, offensive, riotous or that otherwise disturbs other persons of reasonable sensibility in their peaceful enjoyment of their premises or causes damage to said premises..."

The Rental Property chapter was first adopted in 2006 and has since been amended.

For more information, see Chapter 163, "Rental Property," in the borough code at honesdaleborough.com.

City Hall renovations

A special council meeting is set for Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall (958 Main St.), to hear about plans for renovations of the historic borough government building and the parking lot. Councilor David Nilsen, who is working on this project, said that the architect and engineer plan to attend, and boards showing the plans will be presented.

Regular meetings of Honesdale Council take place on the fourth Monday at 6 p.m.

Peter Becker has worked at the Tri-County Independent or its predecessor publications since 1994. Reach him at pbecker@tricountyindependent.com or 570-253-3055 ext. 1588.

This article originally appeared on Tri-County Independent: Honesdale can evict tenants for disruptive conduct, not homeowners