Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Backgrounds not that tough

One of the things made evident in the Lincoln Journal Star series running this week, The Core, is that when a lot of problematic tenants get concentrated in a small area (such as a single apartment building or a small neighborhood), the sum is greater than the whole. When a critical mass of trouble-makers is reached, it drives the good people away, and the place spirals downward. This is exactly what happened at 1520 D Street.

All neighborhoods have their characters, and there is a certain "carrying capacity" in the environment for a few chaotic individuals or households. But when the bad actors start to effect those around them to the extent that the quality of life is significantly diminished, good tenants are suddenly looking for a new place at the end of the lease.

One solution rests with landlords. When you're occupancy rate is pushing 20% it's hard to turn down a tenant who can make the damage deposit and pay the first months rent. That might seem better than nothing, even if he or she isn't exactly an upstanding citizen. If you look at our maps of people with arrest warrants, people on parole, and registered sex offenders, the concentration in The Core is very obvious. Obviously, everyone's got to live someplace. I'm not saying you shouldn't rent to an ex-con, a registered sex offender, or a person with an active arrest warrant. But you might want to know the details, ask a few more questions, and weigh the gravity of the tenant's past conduct before you seal the deal. There is a world of difference between someone who spent a couple of years in the pen for burglary in the 1990's, and someone who is still plying their drug trade despite dozens of arrests and convictions. Some landlords do a great job with this, some are asleep at the wheel.

Landlords really need to take advantage of the easy and instant checks at their disposal, and avoid renting to the worst characters. It protects them, because the really bad tenants are eventually going to put them through the purgatory of eviction anyway, and in the process, the neighbor-from-Hades will scare off their better renters. We make available some very good resources for landlords to do simple backgrounds, at little or no cost. These resources are highlighted front-and-center on our public home page. I also have a guide to criminal history checks posted that provides practical advice on how to do a background in a logical order that minimizes expense.

In a matter of five minutes from any Internet connected computer, you can determine if the prospective tenant is a high risk registered sex offender, has served time in prison for a felony, has been convicted of a crime in a prosecution by the Lancaster County Attorney, or is currently the subject of an arrest warrant held by the Lincoln Police Department or Lancaster County Sheriff. These are all free, but for a $10 fee on your credit card you can add a comprehensive list of all arrests by the Lincoln police and the disposition of those cases. For landlords and property managers, we also have a service available that allows them to check police dispatch information to any address they own or manage, so they never need be surprised to learn that the police had been called to their place.

There's not a community I know of where so much is so readily available. I used to call it "Dads' Instant Boyfriend Check." These resources are equally valuable for such people as employers or volunteer coordinators. How you hire a convicted embezzler for your accountant in this day and age is beyond me. All these checks are public record, by the way, they are just particularly accessible in Lincoln compared to every place else.


Anonymous said...

Ok now for a reality check. Records say only a glimpse. Please explain a police officer who steals money from a bar cash register...now whos your daddy?

Anonymous said...

Exactly, there isn't another community that has this level of free internet background checking available, at least not in this state. Even the city of Omaha and Douglas county leave you in the dark for , so you pretty much have the Nebraska Inmate Locator, and that's it. When you think about their comparative (vs. Lincoln's) tax revenues, that just not acceptable. Take advantage of these terrific and free (well, not totally free, being taxpayer-funded) resources.

Much like locking garage doors and not leaving swag visible in the car, you've beat this "landlords check your potential tenants" drum before, but it's a drum that needs thumped on a periodic basis. I guess Carlton Sheets didn't talk about problem tenants when telling budding real estate tycoons how to make their first million with no money down.

If you're going to get into residential rental property ownership & management, you've got to do it with your eyes open. Do the criminal and credit history checks, and make the tenant pay any fees required for those. Once they get in, if they have a minor child living with them, it's awfully hard to evict them, no matter how crummy of a tenant they become.

One more thing - since fair housing laws don't mention tattoos or face hardware, and the owner of this blog can tell you about the disproportionate frequency of those two voluntary features on career criminals, you might want to take note of them and be especially thourough when running a BI on applicants with those features. That isn't to say everyone with visibly inked skin and a pound of metal hanging from their face is an active criminal, but better to err on the side of caution.

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 10:58--

Good observations, but I counsel slight caution on judging the book by its cover. Many a pierced eyebrow on a 20 year old becomes a tiny scar on a 30 year old.

Also, we continue to encourage all would-be criminals to have their nickname tattooed on their neck. It's helped us a lot in several cases.

Anonymous 8:17--


Anonymous said...

Hey Tom, are you gearing up yet for the Mardi Gras.

Anonymous said...

True, and some of the finest people it's ever been my privilege to meet have had tattoos purchased during drunken shore liberties.

By the way, it appears that LPD has done a terrific job on the apartment burglary ring investigation. That must have been what you meant about staying tuned for more news on the subject.

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 5:22--


Anonymous 5:51--

Yep, and keep staying tuned.

Anonymous said...

I've seen a few incident summaries listed recently for the 500 block of Northborough Lane. I looked the area up on the county assessor site and saw that while most of the houses on that block are owner-occupied, a few are rentals, one with an out-of-town landlord. Would it be a fair guess to say that one of these rentals is the problem spot on that block?

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 4:24-

That would be fair to say.

Anonymous said...

Chief, what do we do when we gear up for the Mardi Gras?

Tom Casady said...

I didn't really understand the question, which is why I didn't respond. Gear up as in cancel leaves, pull in people on overtime, and recheck the expriation date on the CS? Or gear up as in get buy my beads, get my costume ready, and find a recipe for jambalaya?