Kent Co. seeks fines for property owner ‘maintenance’ violations

DOVER — Kent County Levy Court commissioners voted unanimously to support draft legislation that would give county staff the ability to issue and enforce fines for “property maintenance” violations on Tuesday night.

The enabling legislation Levy Court plans to hand the General Assembly would allow Kent County to “establish regulations regarding property maintenance and penalties for violations of said regulations.”

Though a fine schedule and “property maintenance code” haven’t been fully established, the details would likely be hammered out if the enabling legislation was passed, said county leadership. However, according to the draft, violations would likely include things like overgrown weeds and grass, excess refuse, rubbish, trash or other waste material on property.

The new draft legislation in nearly the same as a policy New Castle County has used for a number of years noted county planning director Sarah Keifer. Currently, Kent County only has the ability to issue citations to property owners who let their property’s fall into a state of disrepair that threatens “health and safety” of other residents, she said. From there, the property owner must be pursued in Justice of the Peace Court if they fail to remedy the violation.

However, after the lengthy process of getting non-compliance cases to court, they’re are often dismissed for various reasons, ultimately wasting time and effort, explained Ms. Keifer.

“This enabling legislation would offers us some more flexibility, and can save time if we don’t have to rely on the court process,” she said. “It’s something the staff is very much in favor of.”

However, not all staff appeared as enthusiastic. During the public comment section of the Tuesday committee meeting the county’s chief code enforcement officer and newly-elected state Rep. Shannon Morris (R) said that although he wasn’t strongly against the new legislation, he believes the county may already the “tools” necessary to enforce county code. He explained that the county can already deny county services to a property owner who remains non-compliant.

“We already have avenues to do the job,” he said. “We can be taking people to court every day if that’s what’s wanted, we just haven’t been doing it that way. I’m not saying it’s not a good idea, but it should be examined further.”

Rep. Morris said that, to his knowledge, New Castle County had adopted the policy because the volume of their court cases would cause a lot of undue traffic in their courtrooms.

“They’ve been taking and prosecuting cases a lot more than us,” he said. “For the past few years we weren’t really as involved taking as many people to court like that.”

Rep. Morris suggested that the process should be slowed down and more legwork done to ensure that the enabling legislation will have its intended outcome.

Even if successful in the General Assembly, the policy would have to come back to Levy Court for full drafting and final approvals.

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