Statewide group opposes nuisance ordinances in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Over the last few years, several municipalities in West Virginia have enacted ordinances designed to hold the owners accountable for illegal activity on their property.

In other cities, ordinance violations are misdemeanors and are punishable by a monetary fine if property owners do not remove illegal activity within a specified time.

Our Future West Virginia (OFWV) is a nonprofit organization based in Charleston with organizers working across the state on four main initiatives: economic justice, educational justice, racial justice, and civic engagement.

Our Future West Virginia defines a nuisance ordinance as a local regulation that attempts to pressure landlords to either surveillance, evict, or not renew leases of tenants that have been deemed as problematic by the city.

The group held a public information meeting in Morgantown Saturday.

Economic justice and eastern regional organizer for OFWV, Liira Raines says the ordinances are unfair.

“There’s not a lot of due process with them,”Raines said,”The actions and abatements that are taken against landlords are largely based off of simple police calls rather then actual convictions or evidence of wrong doing.”

Raines says Morgantown already has a process to deal with nuisance situations.

“Morgantown already has a nuisance ordinance process,”Raines said,”For example, it involves a lot of due process, it requires city council to declare a nuisance and while some might find that cumbersome it also protects the rights of all those involved.”

Raines says officials should eradicate drug activity by using existing laws, since selling controlled substances is already a felony.

Mollie Kennedy, community outreach director for the West Virginia ACLU says ordinances have unintended consequences.

“Nuisance ordinances dissuade victims of crime from contacting police, when they know the end result could mean eviction from their homes. These ordinances are not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling public interest, Kennedy said,”There are no protections for those who are victims of crime, no distinction between between crimes committed by tenants or crimes committed against tenants.”

Raines says there will be meetings with neighborhoods, city leaders and the OFWV.

“Next week we’re meeting ahead of the city council meeting at the end of the month,”Raines said,”Where everybody working on this issue from the Greenmont Neighborhood Association, us and other concerned partners can sit down and find a better way forward for the city.”

The date and time of that meeting has not been determined.