In early 2011, Middletown police began receiving numerous complaints about fights and other criminal activity at a rental property on Franklin Drive.
"We went to that house numerous times for loud music, parties and some really violent activity," Police Chief Henry Tobin said this week. "We were eventually able to track down the landlord, who told us he was really surprised to learn about all the problems we were having. But we brought it to his attention, he took action and eventually the tenants were either evicted or their lease was not renewed."
Tobin said he's hoping to educate more landlords about what they can do to keep their properties from being abused by nuisance tenants.
To that end, Middletown Police Department will host a daylong training session Saturday for the owners of the town's 1,100 rental properties.
During the seminar at the Middletown Fire Department, officials from the Delaware Attorney General's Office will instruct landlords on how they can use criminal background screenings and Fair Housing laws to avoid potential nuisance renters, as well as the legal actions they can take when problems do arise.
"I certainly don't think anyone is out there intentionally renting to bad tenants, but I do think landlords can benefit from learning more about what can be done when they do get them," Tobin said. "That's why we want to educate these property owners about the tools available to them, because they can't just put blinders on and be absentee landlords when their tenants are terrorizing the community."
Rental properties are not the sole source of criminal activity in Middletown, the police chief said.
But when it comes to criminal activity at owner-occupied homes, he said the town has shown it's willing to invoke the state's Criminal Nuisance Abatement Act, which allows the Delaware Department of Justice to pursue a civil lawsuit against home owners that can result in fines of up to $1,000 a day, as well as a court-ordered seizure of their property.
Following a request from Middletown officials, the state attorney general's office pursued just such a suit against the owners of a well-known drug house on Dove Nest Court in 2011 that resulted in a court-ordered seizure of the property and the owners' eviction.
Tobin said the law allows for similar actions to be taken against the owners of rental properties, a process the police chief said he's willing to pursue if local landlords refuse to take action to deal with criminal tenants on their own.
"Right now, we're trying to be proactive by offering education as a carrot, in the hopes of giving the landlords the tools they need to address these issues," he said, adding that future landlord training sessions are being planned. "But if necessary, we will resort to the hammer of the Nuisance Abatement Law. They need to be aware that either they deal with the problem, or we will."