Legal action against criminal nuisance properties in Delaware is increasing significantly due to an accelerated use of the state’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement Statute, Delaware’s Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Over the last year, 38 nuisance properties have been targeted by law enforcement agencies, according to Attorney General Matt Denn, D-Delaware.
“We want landlords to keep track of what’s happening on their properties, and if they have illegal activity going on on their properties, to deal with it—contact the police, evict the tenants if necessary,” he said.
“But ultimately we want this activity to stop, and the easiest way for that to happen is for the landlords to deal with it.”
The Nuisance Abatement Statute was passed by the General Assembly in 2000 and expanded in 2011 by Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, and State Representatives Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, and J.J. Johnson, D-Wilmington, to address drug crimes at the request of the late Attorney General Beau Biden.
The law targets landlords who are aware of criminal activity on their property, but ignore it.
“Landlords, they just want to collect their money, and they don’t want to deal with the people they rent the property to. They just want to make sure the check cashes at the end of the month and put it in their account and move on,” Keeley said.
“What they don’t care about sometimes is the people they’re affecting with the people they’re putting in their properties.”
Historically, it has been difficult to target nuisance properties due to budget restraints and a shortage of staff in the DOJ and police departments, Denn said. But over the past year, the DOJ, multiple police agencies and local government have been collaborating to address the issue. Denn said many DOJ staff have even volunteered to work on these cases on top of their normal workload.
The 38 properties in Wilmington, New Castle and Greenwood have allegedly been the locations of illegal drug sales and drug use, violent crimes and prostitution.
Police had been called to a property on North Spruce Street in Wilmington 88 times since 2011. The cases also include action against the Gold Club gentleman’s club in Wilmington, which was the scene of several shootings.
Landlords and owners are being ordered to ban or evict specific tenants, conduct criminal background checks on new tenants, close properties and turn them over and, in one case, not rent their property to anyone who has lived there any time since 2012.
In addition to those 38 properties, another 44 are being evaluated for potential criminal nuisance action, and 31 have been investigated but determined not appropriate for criminal nuisance enforcement.
Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings said his department receives calls daily about nuisance properties.
“If we’re able to look at properties that drive crime in certain areas, if we can impact those locations, we can impact the crime occurring,” he said. “The goal is to drive down crime occurring and improve quality of life in those areas where constant calls come in.”
Denn said more properties will be investigated in the future.
“We’re just getting started and hope to build on this success and work with our partners to work on even more properties going forward,” he said. “We didn’t get to where we are with violent crime in our state overnight. But by working together, working hard and working thoughtfully we are going to make our neighborhoods safer.”
Residents can report potential criminal nuisance activity by calling 302-577-5093.