Tenants’ Rights Issue Still Murky

SALISBURY — With several months of work already invested into the Tenants’ Rights Addendum, disagreement over details amongst the Salisbury City Council and scheduling issues could hold up publication of the ordinance for several weeks.

“I’d like to get along as far as we can,” said Council President Terry Cohen at a work session last Thursday.

Tenants’ rights have been a hot-button issue in Salisbury for more than a decade. The addendum is meant to provide information to tenants seeking legal counsel for conflicts with their landlords. Additionally, it would also list restrictions the tenants need to keep in mind, such as the maximum number of unrelated individuals allowed to occupy a unit, which in this case is four.

While the council has sharpened the ordinance several times since it first appeared last winter, some felt this week that the document still needed tweaking to make the exact terms and conditions clearer. The layout and design of the list of rules itself was also debated.

“All consumer protection information … should be towards the back,” suggested Councilwoman Eugenie Shields.

Shields found several faults with the proposed form and worried that it was too complicated and clustered.

“Most people, in reality, want immediate help,” she said.

According to Shields, including web links in the addendum was probably superfluous. She called for a trimmed down document listing the essential information that both tenants and landlords need to know about eviction laws.

“We’ll focus on tenant’s rights,” said Shields.

The council was agreeable to some changes to the document, but the majority felt that retaining web information would be a practical move in this day and age.

“I think this at least gives us something to work on,” said Cohen, who pushed for the ordinance to move from the work session directly to Monday’s legislative session for first reading.

While the ordinance wasn’t completely ironed out, Cohen believed it was far enough along to warrant an official vote and that any tweaks could be done via amendments.

“I disagree with that,” said Councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “I think that’s backfiring.”

Mitchell asserted that hastily sending out the bill without everyone being 100 percent satisfied with it wasn’t only a bad idea, it might be illegal. The council was informed that, due to a conflict with the amount of time needed between announcing a bill and voting on it, it couldn’t have the ordinance on Monday, July 11 agenda regardless.

Consequently, the council agreed to further explore the language of the form. Cohen promised to email a revised version to the council, after which it will have the option of scheduling another work session to discuss the changes or putting it up for an official vote at their July 25 legislative session.

“I suspect it will be the former,” said Mitchell, who felt there was still discussion needed before the issue of tenants’ rights was settled.