Friday, December 28, 2007

Landlord holds the key

Last weekend, Northwest Team officers got slammed with a series of investigations that emanated from a large drinking party in a big new duplex on N. 21st Street near the northern edge of the city. Six assaults and one robbery occurred after a group of uninvited attendees showed up and were not exactly friendly, a trend of late. Fortunately, the robbery was cleared quickly when Sgt. Bill Kuhlman stopped a vehicle leaving the area and found the rather distinctively-described suspect. (Note: not a good idea to commit robbery when you are 6'7" tall. )

When the dust cleared, the Northwest Team had a mound of reports to complete, follow-up to conduct, evidence to tag, and statements to transcribe. It's not the first time, as this same location has been the site of 19 police incidents this year, including a total of 9 violent crimes: rape, robbery and assault. I think it will get dramatically quieter in the next several months, because Capt. Genelle Moore had a frank conversation today with the registered agent of the corporation that owns the duplex--a nice little factoid made readily available 24/7 courtesy of the Lancaster County Assessor and the Nebraska Secretary of State. Our registered agent is a well-known developer of many-bedroomed-vinyl-sided-huge-garage-in-front duplexes.

Our experience with such places has been that when we bring some pressure to bear on a landlord, manager, or property owner, the situation normally improves quite quickly. Take away the anonymity, and suddenly it's not just the police who are trying to solve the problems. We have occasionally used Lincoln's ordinance Maintaining a Disorderly House to cite landlords or property owners, but usually the mere implication that we might do so spurs the owner to get a move on it.

The Northwest Team has another great example of the phenomenon. It's another one of those big duplexes dropped into a formerly quiet little area of single-family homes. In 2005, we responded to the duplex on 34 incidents. In 2006 it was 48. I was working on New Year's Day this year, and noticed the trend. I sent a facetious email to the captain who commands the area, wondering if we should just assign an officer to park in front of the duplex as a fuel saving measure, since we were there ten times in December of 2006 anyway.

That ramped up the heat on the landlord with a citation for Maintaining a Disorderly House (we had warned him several times previously). His initial response was to complain to a City Council member. I had to explain all the details in order to assure her that we weren't picking on the landlord, rather, he was failing to take the necessary steps to deal with these problem residents (among those cited there--five times--was this guy). After he was cited, the landlord promised to do better, and the City prosecutor dismissed the charge. Within a matter of weeks, he sold the property. He just wasn't equipped to deal with tenants who were not cooperative.

Apparently the new owner is. Our last police dispatch to the duplex was case number A6-139400, a wild party disturbance on December 29, 2006. If we make it through today, that's a full year with zero police calls, arrests, citations, and complaints.


Nikki said...

Let the countdown begin!

JT said...

having always been a renter, I can vouch for the fact that there are "good" and "bad" landlords, not only for problems/issues with your own unit, but keeping an eye out on what is going on in their rental community. Lucky for us it is usually pretty easy to tell after a month or even less, whether the place fits your needs and security requirements or not. Too bad for all those homeowners though, who randomly get one of those types of places placed next door to them!

Anonymous said...

I got carried away here, and this post got a little wordy, so I won't take offense if you don't post it:

The next time Ms. Hicks calls you up and asks if you have anything for her to write about, a great topic suggestion would be landlords! Specifically, how the sort of uninvolved, hands-off-as-long-as-I-get-paid-the-rent-on-time sort of landlords are a bane to the City of Lincoln.

Some landlords don't use common sense, and thus don't require criminal history checks. They don't even use the readily available free resources online. They enable known criminal tenants to always land with their feet on the ground, in another rental property, as long as they have cash in hand for the first and last month's rent. If no one would rent to those verifiable problem tenants, they'd either have to move to another town, or better yet, another state. Instead, people keep renting to them, and they continue to plague neighborhoods all over, all the way from North Bottoms to Woods Park to Colonial Hills to Rolling Hills.

The real teeth in the maintaining a disorderly house law isn't the fine - it's the possibility of jail time. Fines can be rationalized as part of being an irresponsible businessman, but a chance at a stint in the clink likely mortifies those shabbier landlords like nothing else. Sure, the Los Angeles County Jail it isn't, but LCC is probably worse than anywhere that most of them have ever slept.

Problem landlords mean problem tenants, and that means more crime in the areas near their property, and in the whole city as a collective effect of this population of criminal tenants. When LPD gets the blame from ignorant LJS posters for crime in the Near South area, for example, someone needs to steer their uninformed and errant finger toward a fundamental class of crime enablers - the landlords that don't care enough to screen their tenants and weed out the thugs.

Tom Casady said...

And we make it pretty easy to screen out many problem tenants, just by following this advice.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the government agencies that allow these multi-family rentals to be built and allow the remodeling (or should we say slum-modeling) of large single-family houses into multiple apartments. The fact that R-1 zoning allows two-family residences, rather than just the single-family sort, is another problem.