We have no argument about the dangers of illegal fireworks or the difficulty police have in catching and citing people who are dumb enough to use them.
But the new law that the city of Lemoore has adopted goes too far.
The council voted this week to hold property owners responsible if someone shoots off fireworks on their property. That would mean police would only have to find where illegal fireworks were shot from rather than who lit the fuse and sent them soaring into the sky to issue a citation.
The fine: $1,000.
And it apparently doesn’t matter if property owners know fireworks are being used on their property let alone approve their use.
The stated object of the fine is landlords whose tenants use illegal fireworks.
“Landlords are businessmen first and foremost and have a responsibility to keep up their property just as any business does,” wrote City Attorney Jenell Van Bindsbergen in a staff report.
The council – and Van Bindsbergen – need to become more familiar with California law that protects tenants’ rights and limits what landlords can do.
Rental and lease agreements always contain wording about property not being used for illegal purposes, which already tells tenants they are not to violate laws prohibiting the use of certain fireworks.
In reality, a landlord has little control over what a tenant actually does.
If tenants choose to use the property to sell drugs, run a chop shop, brew meth or anything else illegal, it can take months for a landlord to evict those tenants.
When you are talking about something as fleeting as launching illegal fireworks, there is even less a landlord can do to quickly address the problem except tell tenants to stop if he sees them doing it.
That’s because state law protects tenants’ rights to privacy and staying in their home. There is no quick eviction in California, and if a tenant has lived in a rental for more than two years, eviction is painfully slow and can take many months, during which the tenant often pays no rent.
Landlords can’t turn off water or power. They cannot make unannounced inspections.
About all they could do is threaten to withhold a deposit to make up for a fine, but then what is the tenant’s incentive to leave the rental in a clean and useable condition?
So how, exactly, would a landlord prevent a renter from launching illegal fireworks?
And, what happens if a homeowner is gone on vacation and kids in the neighborhood use his driveway to launch bottle rockets? The rockets launch, police come, kids run away and the homeowner is fined?
This is an ordinance that is the result of frustration, the frustration of seeing dangerous fireworks being launched, of seeing people injured and fires started by such fireworks and not being able to find the people responsible.
The frustration is understandable, but this is an ordinance that makes no sense, that seeks to punish innocent people and that needs to be rescinded.
Thankfully, there were not enough council members present for it to be passed on an emergency basis. The law doesn't take effect until after this Fourth of July, and that gives the council the time to rethink it.