At the request of the Town Attorney Richard Kaufman, specific civil penalties will be assigned to specific violations of the town’s recently approved overcrowding ordinance.
Rewritten and approved in August 2004, the zoning ordinance specifies that permitting excessive occupancy in one dwelling unit, including persons from another family and maintaining a second kitchen in a dwelling unit without a conditional-use permit, are violations of the town’s laws.
“These provide an easier reference,” said Kaufman, “in respect to the civil penalties that those violations break.”
Created in response to complaints of increasing residential overcrowding in town, the zoning ordinance specified violations offering the Town Council leverage in prosecuting owners of homes that had been converted into boarding houses or others who were allowing multiple persons to live in one dwelling unit.
“Most other areas have civil penalties for zoning violations,” said Kaufman. “But the adoption of the Aug. 10 zoning ordinance that described overcrowding by square-footage, no other area has adopted that unique of a zoning ordinance.”
Scheduled to be approved by the Town Council March 22, if an owner of a dwelling unit is found in violation of the specified penalties they will be fined $250.
“This is just an additional tool the town may have to enforce the regulations,” said Mayor Michael O’Reilly. “There was a consensus that we wanted whatever tools we could use to enforce this — at the time we need more available to us.”
Although the approval of the penalties will mean that the overcrowding ordinance will be more specific, Kaufman explained there would be no changes for the town’s building inspectors.
“What’s happening is, the ordinance is clear and easier to use for the town and citizens,” he said. “So, hopefully some of these elements can be resolved in the talking phase.”
In addition, Kaufman said because the Town Council and Planning Commission were very careful when constructing the language of the ordinance, newly constructed houses or remodeled houses that have a second kitchen in them will be excused.
“A sink in the basement that is a recreation room or a microwave in a recreation room, those won’t trip the second-kitchen conditional-use requirement,” said Kaufman. “The second-kitchen language was worked so it was relative and focused to exclude a person who was not running a [multiple occupant] dwelling unit.”
With the addition of the fine, the hope is owners found in violation of the overcrowding ordinance — through the town’s inspections and other complaints — will pay the $250 fine and make the necessary changes as opposed to being prosecuted by the town and taken through the costly litigation process.
“Having the additional fine or penalty may help a little but if a judge tells them to get out, that is going to have more weight,” said O’Reilly. “If it’s not resolved amicably, we will go through the litigation and injunction process.”