September 20, 2014
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Measure would amend sober house ordinance

Council President Bruce Place is working on three ordinances, the first of which seeks to amend Warwick zoning regulations in regards to rooming, boarding and “sober” houses. Sober houses are places for former addicts to recover. The second concerns unregistered vehicles parked in residential areas, while the third is relative to amending a section of the Warwick Absentee Landlord Registration legislation.

All three measures are currently in place, however, statewide statutes enforced about a year and a half ago negatively impacted city law.

While the items were on last night’s council agenda, Place held each of them. He said he docketed the items to get the ball rolling.

During a phone interview last week Place said the Norwood Neighborhood Association has been discussing the issue of sober houses at recent meetings, as a resident of a sober home was recently seen inebriated on the property. Also, in July, a home on Pierce Avenue caught fire and was later condemned.

“We had to condemn it because of safety reasons and residents were moved to another address on Broad Street,” Place said. “As a result of that and other things we have going on, there seems to be no legislation to address this situation. That’s the reason I docketed this legislation.”

As noted, because the state building code has superceded local building codes, Place is working on new legislation.

“We’re trying to come up with proper legislation that addresses first off what a ‘sober’ house is, secondly, is that a business, and if so, why is it in a residential area?” he said.

The other issue, Place said, is taxation. Currently, sober houses are being taxed as residential properties, as opposed to being taxed as businesses.

“It further gets complicated because some of these properties are owned by a person or individual and subleased by a company that is operating a sober home,” he said.

He said he had a meeting with zoning officials and attorneys Tuesday to look into defining “sober” homes.

Last month, NBC 10 reported that city records indicate a mortgage company owns the home on Pierce Avenue, and “the most recent tenant was the Rogers Home for Sober Living. Documents filed with the secretary of state's office show Milton Rogers is the company's president. He's also a Newport car salesman, and the house isn't his only sober home.”

NBC 10 also reported that Rogers rents a home on Norwood Avenue, which is just a block from the burned home, as well as rents a home on Vermont Avenue in Providence. “Rogers subleases rooms to clients, charging each $145 a week, plus an entrance fee of $200. With two clients to a room, a four-bedroom house could potentially bring in close to $3,000 a month after paying rent and expenses,” according to NBC.

Place said that Rogers is running a business and needs to be taxed and zoned accordingly.

“He’s taking $3,000 a month out of people who live in the house,” Place said. “I’m sure he’s not filing anything with the IRS, which is a whole separate issue.”

Moreover, Senator Erin Lynch is working on legislation to remedy the issue, as there's no requirement for licensing by the state. Place also said that the Warwick Police Department was working to help fix the problem but is no longer involved.

“There was an issue where police and fire were called for one of the residents who passed out on the front lawn, but the police have cleared it. It’s not an issue for them anymore,” Place said.

In terms of citizens storing unregistered and uninspected vehicles in residential neighborhoods, Place said there are several locations throughout the city that have posed problems. Quite often, he said, people are purchasing “junk” cars and leaving them on their lawns.

“These are nice residential neighborhoods and there are junk cars parked there,” he said. “The police can take care of it if they are parked on the street, but they can’t do anything if they are parked on private property. Again, some of the ordinances we could have used with regard to minimum housing regulations have been overridden by the new state statutes about a year and a half ago, so we’re trying to get that in for WPD and building code enforcements. The WPD can’t enforce a zoning violation, so we’re trying to work it all together to further define that.”

As for the landlord Warwick Absentee Landlord Registration, Place said the council approved at least four years ago an ordinance that was “very good” but now has to create something new. The issue revolves around the fact that some residents with absentee landlords don’t properly care for their property and have no concern for minimum housing violations. He’s hoping to rectify the situation.

“When the new state statute building code was established, it superceded everything that we did in regard to absentee landlords,” Place said. “We’re trying to reinstate it so it’s compatible with the new state ordinance. We’re just trying to get back to where we were.”


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