HARVARD – The city now has the ability to hold landlords accountable if their properties draw consistent police attention after the Harvard City Council passed a "chronic nuisance" ordinance Tuesday night.
Landlords and tenants of residences that draw at least three cases of "nuisance activity" within a 120-day period could be called in front of the Housing Board to establish an abatement plan to stop the issues. Violations of several Harvard ordinances, disorderly conduct, felonies and class A misdemeanors qualify as nuisance activity under the ordinance.
"It's a tool that we can use," Mayor Jay Nolan said. "I've had different comments from the public before – 'Why can't we do something about a certain house here, a certain house there?' This gives us a tool."
The ordinance also requires that owners of rentals register their properties with the city.
Failure to do so – or failure to cooperate with the city's abatement plan – could eventually result in fines. But city officials have said the goal is to fix issues before the process reaches that point.
Abatement plans will be unique to individual situations, but the city could require owners to take steps like completing maintenance, implementing more strict tenant screening procedures, or allowing police to prosecute Harvard municipal codes on their private property.
"We're trying to create a plan that holds both the landlords and the tenants responsible but isn't too heavy handed," Alderman Mike Clarke said after the meeting.
Harvard officials started looking into ways to curb crime in the city after a string of shootings in the spring and early summer of 2013.
They initially considered an option that would have allowed neighborhoods to petition to become Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Districts. Owners of single-family homes in neighborhoods zoned NCOD wouldn't have been able to change their properties to duplexes or rentals. That measure was dropped after community members spoke up against it.
Clarke said the chronic nuisance ordinance will help the city take a step in the right direction toward creating "a community people want to live in, [and] want to rent or buy homes in."
"For the most part, I think landlords in this town do a good job," he said. "It's just issues here and there that this can really have an effect on."