Brookings City Council approved an ordinance Monday night designed to enable law enforcement and the municipal court to better address “nuisance properties” in town.

The issue came up last year when the Chetco Inn sold and was transformed from a retirement home to a communal-living apartment complex — and in a six-month period, police responded to 81 calls there.

Police asked the city council to implement something to give them more teeth to enforce laws and help property owners and their neighbors with problem tenants.

The owners of the inn have since been working with local police, and the new on-site manager, Janell Drew, is cracking down on tenants who violate apartment rules and local laws.

She said the first week she was there, she evicted nine tenants — and is evicting two more this week.

“I have zero tolerance,” she said of illegal activities. “If I see you coming in the door and I don’t recognize you, I’m in your face by the time you hit the door.”

She now requires background checks, cameras have been mounted in the building and parking lot and tenants get a three-day notice if they are late on rent. Drew is also working with the state fire marshal to address the aging electrical and fire systems in the building to decrease the number of false fire alarms.

“We’ve had flea powder set them off,” she said. “We’ve had silverfish set them off. And of course, people cooking in their rooms.”

Calls to the inn have decreased, to 62, from January to date, she told the council — a decrease of an average of 20 a month to seven. In August, Drew said, there were five calls and last month, three.

“There can be bad elements come in, but she gets rid of them,” said resident Victoria Vest, who moved in when she couldn’t find rental housing in town. “I’d hate to see it closed again. I’d hate to have to find a place to live again.”

The new ordinance

The new ordinance indicates a property can be deemed a “chronic nuisance property” if law enforcement or other emergency personnel are summoned there two or more times in 60 days. The owner would then be required to craft an abatement plan in 14 days, which could include plans for increased security, changes in business hours and plans to evict problem tenants.

If that doesn’t work, the city could close the building for 30 to 180 days and impose a $500 per day penalty.

City Attorney Martha Rice said the ordinance, crafted from those in other cities in Oregon, is not any more restrictive. And the percentage of cases that result in a building’s closure are “very rare,” she said.

The city council reiterated, too, the ordinance is not meant to single out the Chetco Inn, although problems at the complex last year were the impetus to develop legislation to address nuisance properties in general. They also cited the challenges the county is facing, now that citizens are demanding action on abandoned, unsightly and unhealthful residences in Harbor, among the reasons to have such an ordinance in place.

“The Chetco Inn may have been a case study, but it’s definitely not a ‘Chetco Inn ordinance,’” said Mayor Jake Pieper. “Chetco Inn isn’t the only one — it hasn’t always been and it won’t always be. To have this in the toolbox is prudent.”

“This is just a tool — if need be,” said Councilor Brent Hodges. “It’s to help you guys out, not hurt you guys, or any other property.”

Help even more

Councilor Bill Hamilton said he would like to see the city help Drew even more, by somehow shortening the amount of time it takes to evict a tenant.

“The three-day eviction notice is not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said. “It takes almost 45 days to get it done.”

And renters are well aware of their rights, the council agreed.

It takes time to file an eviction notice, and if the tenant fights it, more time lapses to get it on a court docket. In front of the judge, it often becomes a “he said-she said” situation, further delaying the eviction.

That length of time doesn’t work in more serious cases involving, say, domestic violence, they noted.

Councilor Dennis Triglia, who abstained from the vote, said he was concerned that two calls to a property in 60 days was too strict, and that the number of people living in a complex should be considered, as well.

The council also agreed law enforcement should have discretion in determining the severity of incidents to which they are summoned when determining if a property should be deemed a nuisance.

“It’s like driving in a 25-mph zone,” Pieper said. “If you’re going 26, you’re probably not going to get that ticket. I’m perfectly fine in accepting an officer’s discretion in this, too. To me, it’d be the same.”

Drew also asked for a little leniency as she works through the problems she inherited.

And she rattled off a list of people who live there and the places they work: retail stores and restaurants, in construction, cafes and gas stations.

“We all live paycheck to paycheck,” Drew said. “This is our home. I’m doing the best I can. It’s just me.”

“At first, people told us not to move in,” Vest said. “But we haven’t had any problems there. I’m staying there the rest of my life — me and my cats.”

Reach Jane Stebbins at jstebbins@currypilot.com .

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