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MPLS. PROPERTY RIGHTS ACTION COMMITTEE
PROPOSALS TO IMPROVE CITY GOVERNMENT

PRESENTED TO R.T.RYBAK

   

GENERAL PRINCIPLES:

(1) Increase transparency of city government; provide more public disclosure using latest technologies.

(2) Build greater separation of powers between the City Council, the legislative body, and departments comprising the Executive Branch, especially regarding Inspections and the police.

(3) Formulate more objective policies and standards for government operation after consultation with interested parties.

INSPECTIONS:

(1) As a professional body, city inspectors should exercise independent judgment and not be subject to direct oversight or instruction from City Council members.

(a) The City Council should adopt a written policy affirming the independence of city inspectors and stating what is proper or improper contact by its own members.

(b) The City Council should pass a resolution stating that it is improper to use Inspections for a purpose unrelated to the condition of buildings, e.g., to achieve police objectives.

(c) The Inspections department should keep a log of all complaints received or contacts with persons in city government including City Council members, Mayor’s office, police, other city departments, and neighborhood groups. Complaints received from these persons should be a matter of public record. Minimal information for each complaint should be: (1) name of complainant, (2) date of complaint, (3) inspector to whom complaint was referred, and (4) nature of the complaint. Initially, the Mayor’s office might monitor this log and make inquiries if the contact seems improper. The log should include informal requests made in person as well as telephoned complaints and ones received by letter or by e-mail.

(2) The Inspections department should adopt the “Milwaukee plan” by which Inspections does not respond to complaints made by tenants after a UD motion has been filed.

(3) The work of city inspectors needs to be put on a more objective and professional basis. The Mayor might appoint an independent panel to make recommendations in these areas:

(a) State the function of Inspections. Identify general standards to protect the cpommunity’s health and safety. Define types of building-related conditions that pose a danger to the community.

(b) Determine whether it would be possible or desirable to amend the Housing Maintenance code to state more clearly and objectively those conditions which meet or do not meet minimum standards affecting safety and health. Reportedly, New Jersey communities have such a code.

(c) Establish clear procedures for the training and supervision of inspectors.

(d) Investigate whether city inspectors have abused their discretion in bunching inspections or work orders to inflict financial pain on building owners. For example, Howie Gangsted was given rental-licensing inspections on all 36 buildings at the same time. Recommend procedures to prevent this type of abuse.

(e) Review the effectiveness and fairness of the Inspections Board of Appeals, which usually rules against property owners. Review the make-up of this Board and criteria for selection. Perhaps members should not be appointed by the City Council.

(4) Require inspectors to follow existing city ordinances which hold tenants responsible for code violations caused by them. Currently, inspectors ticket the building owners.

(5) Abandon the city’s current experiment in using city attorneys to help outside parties take over administration of rental properties under the Tenants Remedies Act. This is a direct, powerful disincentive to further investment in rental properties.

(6) Abandon the city’s revenue-enhancement campaign to fine rental-property owners for litter found on their properties. Again, this type of harassment discourages investment.

(7) In code-compliance inspections, the work orders should bring the building up to minimum standards, not new-building standards. The ordinance is being misinterpreted.

(8) In light of the affordable-housing shortage, institute a moratorium on building demolitions.

(9) When people telephone complaints to Inspections regarding rental property, the receptionist should first ask if the person has notified the building manager of the defective condition and has given the manager time to fix it. If not, the complainant should be instructed to take that first step before contacting Inspections. Then, if the manager does not fix the problem, call in city inspectors.

TRANSPARENCY OF OPERATIONS

(1) The City of Minneapolis should publish just about everything on the Internet which a citizen would need to determine whether city government is being operated in an efficient and honest manner. Types of information which might be published on the city’s web site or linked pages might include:

(a) Minutes of all public meetings held by elected officials or the MCDA.

(b) Elected officials’ candidate disclosure information, including lists of contributors.

(c) Major city expenditures and budget information

(d) Information designed to reveal conflicts of interest involving elected officials - career background, business dealings which they or relatives might have with the city, etc.

(e) Publish a statement of other public documents available for inspection by the public, such as City Council members’ telephone logs. Reveal the procedures for requesting to inspect these documents. List what is available for public inspection and what is not.


EMINENT DOMAIN

(1) The City Council should adopt a written policy listing “public purposes” for which the city might legitimately exercise its right to condemn by eminent domain.

(2) The MCDA should be denied use of the city’s power to condemn by eminent domain. Such condemnations should take place only upon a majority vote by the City Council (which would no longer be the MCDA’s governing body).

Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA)

(1) Appoint an independent board of directors for the MCDA. It should not be the City Council. Perhaps the Mayor and City Council might jointly appoint the members.

(2) Eliminate the commission or fee which MCDA receives from establishing TIF districts.

(3) The MCDA’s transactions should be made transparent to the public. Post all expenditures over $5,000 on the Internet along with a disclosure of persons or organizations receiving the payments. In addition, this posting should give a history of past expenditures made to the same persons or organizations, their campaign contributions to elected city officials, and whether or not the recipients were previous city employees. The minutes of all public hearings related to MCDA should also be posted on the Internet.

(4) Review inventory of the MCDA’s land holdings. Require MCDA employees to state immediate plans for developing the property or else sell off the parcels to the public at auction, accepting the highest bid.

(5) End practice of selling MCDA properties for nominal amounts ($1.00 or $2.00) to favored developers or nonprofits. Properties should generally be sold to the highest bidder.

(6) MCDA would no longer have the power of condemnation by eminent domain. (The same point is made under “eminent domain”.)

(7) Review MCDA policies and practices related to estimating repair costs. Establish a procedure allowing outside parties to question the costs. Require MCDA to justify them.

(8) Scrutinize MCDA decisions to demolish owned buildings. Declare that public policy now favors preserving affordable housing, whenever possible. Each demolition would require detailed public explanation.

(9) Study possible conflicts of interest between MCDA personnel and outside parties, especially the nonprofit sector and developers who have done extensive business with the city. Focus on campaign contributions and the “revolving door” syndrome. Develop policies to curtail abuse.


POLICE AND CRIME

(1) Hold a public discussion of the proper relationship between rental-property owners and the community with respect to crime linked to their buildings. Do owners of rental properties have crime-fighting obligations which other citizens do not? If so, how can they meet those obligations?

(2) Whenever criminal activity is reported in or near a rental property, the Minneapolis police should automatically mail a copy of the police report to the property owner or manager. An accompanying note should invite the property owner or manager to contact a particular officer to discuss measures which might be undertaken to relieve the situation.

(3) Where police have identified a tenant (or a tenant’s friend) as a participant in criminal activity, they should be ready to write the landlord a letter to that effect which the landlord could use as justification for evicting the tenant. If the police are unwilling to identify probable criminals in buildings in time for the landlord to take action, then the landlord should be held harmless for any damage to the community arising from the criminal activity.

(4) Consider recommending that the City Council repeal ordinances which hold property owners responsible for tenant behavior including provisions of the rental-license ordinance and the Nuisance law. These ordinances improperly assign police obligations to landlords without providing the resources to meet them.

(5) End the misuse of police statistics to harass landlords - for instance, printouts showing the number of 911 calls linked to a building. State the consequences of exceeding the permissible limit. Allow larger buildings more police calls than smaller buildings. Do not hold landlords responsible for police calls related to domestic abuse, medical emergencies, or disturbances outside the buildings. To penalize landlords for large numbers of police calls discourages people from calling the police to report crime.

(6) The Minneapolis police should be encouraged to write police reports on incidents as often as possible, whether or not this makes the police administration look bad. (Possible underreporting of crime may partly underlie the apparent crime drop.) Also, the police might consider compiling other statistics that reflect on their quality of performance, e.g., average police response time to 911 calls, the percentage of cases investigated, the percentage of investigations resulting in a conviction. Publish these statistics on the Internet.

(7) The CCP/SAFE unit needs either to be eliminated or totally revamped. Landlords regard this as a propaganda team that is continually bad-mouthing them and doing little to help solve crime. The police cannot continue to frame the crime problem exclusively in terms of dealing with “problem properties”. A further criticism is that SAFE officers do not have a reputation of working very hard. The resources devoted to them need to be funneled into active police work. Also, police money should not be used to do political organizing.

(8) The police should treat certain types of property crimes as criminal activities rather than to regard them all as a civil matter. They should be investigated and prosecuted accordingly.

(9) City ordinances should be amended to allow circumstantial evidence to be used in cases relating to property crimes, as it is allowed in graffiti cases.

(10) The police should crack down on evident street crime wherever it occurs. No neighborhood should become a crime containment zone or jail substitute. Reassign police resources accordingly.

(11) The police should make it easier for landlords to acquire criminal-background information in checking potential applicants. Extend the hours when the telephone-checking service is available. Make information relating to the disposition of court cases for arrested persons more easily available. Landlords should not have to come down to the Government Center to access this information on computers.

(12) The police could actively solicit the help of landlords and others in the community in fighting crime. Many landlords would be willing to allow the police to place surveillance cameras in their buildings or allow certain rooms to be used for stake outs. The police should make a better effort to communicate information about known criminals or gang members operating in certain neighborhoods instead of holding landlords responsible for discovering these facts on their own.

OTHER LANDLORD ISSUES

(1) If the community expects landlords to screen tenant applicants effectively to protect it from harm, the city should develop a set of screening guidelines or techniques which landlords can use.

(2) The city should have a policy on where undesirable tenants should live. Perhaps public housing should accept more of the housing undesirables, since it has the resources to deal with such problems.

(3) The city might be involved in efforts to substitute mediation between tenants and landlords for going to court to seek Unlawful Detainers.

(4) The city might help to establish relationships between landlords and social-service agencies which would allow certain landlords to take a chance on accepting problem tenants in exchange for help in dealing with the tenants’ personal problems and with crimes occurring as a result of tenancy.

(5) The city might institute tenant-training programs which would help tenants with troubled backgrounds learn to adapt to the required housing behaviors.

(6) Property taxes, water and sewer bills, and other city fees are too high. General fiscal restraint and more conservative management would allow the city to hold the line on these costs. Water and sewer bills should not become a tax substitute.

(7) The city needs to do a complete review of its regulatory policies and procedures with respect to housing and other business development. Some specific issues would be:

(a) Are certain zoning or lot-size requirements preventing the rehabilitation of housing stock or the continued operation of legitimate businesses?

(b) Is the requirement of city-licensed plumbers, electricians, and heating contractors necessary and helpful in bringing condemned buildings back into service, or are these concessions to certain union or business groups which have made campaign contributions?

(c) Why should the permission of neighborhood groups or block clubs be required for business-development projects? Our elected officials should accept full responsibility for representing the community in such matters and not try to delegate part of their power or responsibility to self-appointed persons in the community. Representative democracy should be given a chance to work. The present system of hyper-participatory democracy can evolve into a scramble for public money or provide a set of excuses for elected officials not to do their jobs. Neighborhood politics as practiced in Minneapolis constitutes a new set of choke-points in the public decisionmaking process which invites corruption.

(8) If affordable housing remains a problem, the city might relax its occupancy standards to allow more people to live in the housing units. Evaluate occupancy by square footage. St. Paul’s regulations are looser in this regard.

(9) The city should consider establishing two new positions intended to reassure rental-property investors and managers of its new and more positive attitude toward private-sector investment and, hopefully, without public subsidies, attract new investment in housing in Minneapolis.

(a) A property-owner’s advocate would be available to counsel and assist owners whose properties were threatened with condemnation. This person would assemble the facts of each case, advise the property owner on steps to be taken to avert or lift condemnation, issue reports to the Mayor and City Council, and represent owners before city bureaucrats and neighborhood groups. Not every case has merit, but those which do need “a friend at City Hall.”

(b) If it can honestly be determined that political fairness has been restored to the rental-housing industry, the city should hire a person to publicize that fact and evangelize for investment in the city’s housing stock. It would be cheaper, in this manner, to attract private money for construction and repair of rental housing than to offer various subsidies to developers.

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