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MPRAC Proposals for Minneapolis city government

 

Notes taken at brainstorming meeting of executive committee on August 9, 2000, listing member concerns:

objection to the 4-page application for rental licenses
crime
harassing inspectors
Abolish MPHA.
lack of consistency from city inspectors
tenants not held accountable for their actions
lack of “equal protection” under the law
MCDA should transfer vacant lots to private developers.
Need a moratorium on building demolition.
Kids need better supervision and should carry photo IDs revealing parents.
City won’t let me occupy a building even though it’s not condemned.
City should drop its anti-business attitude.
MCDA should loan funds to fix up buildings.
Stop criminalizing landlords.
Nonprofits should take the people with bad rental histories.
High crime rate in city is destroying our business.
UD’s make it hard for tenants to find new housing.
Public housing should be the landlord of last resort.
End the police crackdown on landlords and tenants.
Gut the rental-license ordinance, especially its tenant-behavior provisions.
Inspections should convert from complaint-based to systematic checking of units.
Stop gentrification policies to deny housing for low-income people.
Misuse of 911 call counts to punish landlords.
Hold tenants accountable for misdemeanors.
Fire Police Chief Olson.
Need better crime protection.
Minneapolis should adopt Milwaukee Plan.
We should have access to criminal records as MPHA has.
Bring back rooming houses, hotels, etc. for transient renters.
Landlords should be able to fax UD notices to Inspections to stop tenant complaints.

 

Three Issues or Proposals for the Mayor (August 23, 2000)

(1) Minneapolis landlords need to work out an arrangement with the police and with community groups about their rights and responsibilities with respect to crime affecting their buildings. The community cannot simply demand that landlords clean up the crime and then punish them when they fail to do so as quickly as wished.

An equitable arrangement would have these two elements:

(a) The Minneapolis police must be the party which identifies criminal activity and which identifies the particular individuals involved in this crime. To get landlords involved, the police should also communicate to them the names of these alleged criminals, preferably in writing.

(b) Having received a written communication from the police that certain tenants or their friends are involved in criminal activity, the landlord has an obligation to follow through in appropriate ways: to evict the tenant or to ban the tenant’s guest from the building.

If the landlord receives this type of communication from the police and fails to take appropriate action, then the city would have the right to punish the landlord in the variety of ways which are available, including revocation of rental license and action under the state nuisance law.

(2) The city should take steps to assure Minneapolis landlords that the complaint-driven Inspections process is not being abused for political or personal gain.

Certain City Council members and certain community activists who “know the ropes” frequently call Inspections to punish building owners for reasons unrelated to the physical condition of the buildings. (A common reason is criminal activity taking place in or near the building.) These calls automatically trigger a visit by city inspectors.

We do not question the right of anyone to communicate with Inspections. We do question their right to do this anonymously. These complainants are asking city government to take certain actions. It should be a matter of public record.

In the case of City Council members, there is also the problem of undue influence upon Inspectors. Because the Council members supervise Inspections within the city hierarchy, a lowly inspector may feel unable to resist a Council members’ suggestion when the inspector knows that the Council member wants him or her to find something wrong with the building.

The solution is to require Inspections to keep a log of all telephone calls which it has received for complaints about particular properties. These logs should include the complainant’s name and phone number, the property address, the date and time of the call, and the nature of the complaint. The logs should be available for public inspection.

Such a system would help to cut down on the number of malicious or frivolous calls since the caller risks being publicly identified. Particular individuals who have made a career of telephoning Inspections about various properties would be identified as such and their testimony might be discounted accordingly.

Landlords would be willing to exempt current tenants from having their names disclosed since the possibility exists for landlords to retaliate against these individuals. However, there should be no reason why complaints from other individuals, especially government officials, should not be a matter of public record.

We want to make Minneapolis a bit less like East Germany where one out of three citizens was an informer for the secret police. Good government demands openness.

(3) The City of Minneapolis should create a new position of “Property Owners advocate” who would advise and help property owners whose buildings are condemned or emptied out through application of Nuisance laws or rental-license revocation.

Whenever a property owner faces condemnation or other such severe action by the city or other government agency, that owner would receive, along with the condemnation notice, the name and number of the Property Owners advocate who would offer free consultation.
The Property Owners advocate would explain the legal options and processes available to the property owner to lift the condemnation. Where there were issues between property owners and neighborhood groups, this officials would bring the two sides together to discuss their problem and perhaps find a resolution. Where the city seems at fault, this advocate might do an independent investigation to ascertain the facts and then present a written report to the Mayor and the City Council.

In short, this person might be an independent fact-finder and mediator who, though employed by the city, would be presumed to be an advocate for property owners. Such a position would help to increase investor confidence in the city which, in turn, would bring more private money back into the rental market for housing. It would also help to cut legal costs for the city when mediated solutions are found.

 

Three Other Concerns identified in September, 2000


(1) Private-sector landlords are troubled by vague policies and regulations used to punish them. In this proposal, we call for clarification of existing policies so that we will know what our rights and responsibilities are under the law. We ask for written statements of explanation from the city in two areas of concern.

(a) We have heard that the city police tally the number of 911 calls associated with a particular address and then begin punitive measures against the building owner when a certain number of calls are received. What is the number of calls within a year which triggers enforcement effort? What type of enforcement (punishment) is properly taken when a building is charged with generating this number of calls? Are other factors, such as neighborhood attitudes and unresolved work orders, involved in decisions to punish building owners? If so, what are the criteria for determining severity of offense in those areas?

(b) The city holds building owners criminally responsible for failure to correct certain building-code violations. What are the types of violations which will be prosecuted criminally? What legal authorization does the city have for this criminal prosecution? What criteria are used in decisions whether or not to prosecute landlords criminally?

(2) The MCDA (city development agency) is sitting on too much housing or vacant lots which private-sector contractors or rental-property owners might purchase. Without specifying a technique, we think that the city officials might relax their restrictive policies, set a new priority on putting more housing units back in service, and do business with others besides the high-cost, favored contractors and housing non-profits who have long had the inside track in dealing with the MCDA.

(3) The city should have an honest and realistic policy about housing persons with bad rental histories and criminal records. We think that the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) should take their fair share of persons who are clearly undesirable tenants.

These people need to live somewhere. Private-sector landlords do not have the resources or skills to act as social workers or police. The city needs to take the lead in providing places where the undesirable types of tenants can live and in providing social services to help these people deal with their problems.

 

Landlords’ Reaction to “Discussion Issues

The points are listed in descending order of priority:

(1) “Crime in general and the destruction of rental property” For landlords in certain neighborhoods, this is the issue. High crime rates are destroying their businesses. They cannot attract or keep good tenants in these neighborhoods. They are continually having to deal with vandalism, vagrancy, and illegal activities affecting their buildings. These landlords object to having their neighborhoods used as “substitute jails” or “crime ghettos”. A better solution would be for city police, prosecutors, and judges to get their act together so that criminals receive the appropriate degree of punishment to deter future crimes and discourage would-be criminals from migrating to our city.

(2) “Practices of CCP SAFE and their alleged hostility toward rental property owners”. Under this heading we put the general policy of holding rental-property owners responsible for criminal activities taking place in or near their buildings. Landlords are not trained to be police officers; however, they, like other citizens, should be expected to assist police officers in providing information about crime. CCP SAFE has functioned as an anti-landlord propaganda unit charged with the mission of shifting the blame for neighborhood crime away from the city police and toward private-sector landlords. We object to the city police doing political organizing and propaganda work. The resources should be put into regular police work.

(3) “Cost of legal services for rental property owners when tenants get free legal representation.” Thanks to Gregory Luce, Melissa Hortman, and other gung-ho attorneys on a mission to make a name for themselves at the expense of landlords, this is becoming a major problem for us. There is an obvious question of equity: One side gets unlimited free legal representation at taxpayer expense while the other side has to pay the legal costs himself or herself. At a minimum, there should be some mechanism of control placed upon the legal-aid attorneys to make sure that the lawsuits which they bring have some merit. As it stands, these lawyers are predators upon our industry. They are causing investors to flee our industry at a time when the city should be encouraging more, not less, investment in rental property.

(4) “The use of 911 calls for measure of illegal activity in a rental property”. Landlords and their tenants have every right to call the city police when crime threatens their buildings. The police’s policy of threatening landlords when a certain number of calls are logged to a building is a blatant attempt to discourage these landlords and their tenants from using police services. We have paid for this service through our taxes. In the interest of improved public safety, we think that the police should encourage citizens to provide more not less information about crime. Owners of large buildings also object to setting a uniform standard of allowed police calls per building, which unfairly penalizes them. We also object to being punished for crimes which we cannot or should not control: crimes occurring on sidewalks or streets in front of our buildings, domestic-abuse calls, etc.

(5) “The cost of fees and taxes to property owners that get passed on to tenants”. Yes, we private-sector landlords pay much more than our fair share of taxes and fees - compared with owners of other real estate, compared with landlords in other cities, etc. If you want to destroy something, tax it. To a certain extent, high taxes and fees make rental property go away. Is this what the city wants or needs?

(6) “The shortage of affordable housing and the difficulty for private developers to build new housing or rehabilitate property”. As suppliers of affordable housing, we have enough customers to be willing to tolerate more competition. Many of us agonize over decisions to evict tenants since we know our decisions in a tight rental market will create real hardship for these persons. As business people, we would also like to be able to participate in opportunities to provide more housing units, but we find our path blocked by self-interested city bureaucracies.

(7) “New information requirements for rental licensing and privacy rights of rental property owners”. We have covered this concern in a letter to the Mayor dated July 27, 2000. We think that the new application forms are unnecessary from a regulatory standpoint, excessively intrusive and personal.

(8) “The perception that private rental property owners are held to a higher standard than public housing”. There is a fairness issue here. However, our principal concern is what the city is doing to private rental property owners, not to make sure that public housing receives equal punishment.

(9) “Cost of doing background checks on prospective tenants.” This is more a concern for tenants than landlords since landlords generally pass along the cost of doing these background checks to the applicants in the form of application fees.

 

More Problems of Concern to Landlords (September 2000)

City inspectors have too much personal power which can be used to harass building owners and managers. There appears to be little consistency of regulation. There are no objective standards for building-code violations. Elected officials, police, and neighborhood groups interfere with the Inspections process. Inspectors are ill trained. These inspectors should regulate building safety, not crime.

There is poor communication between landlords and police. Landlords have no idea of who the criminals are in their neighborhood. Many police have a negative attitude toward landlords and seem to resent being asked to provide police services. The police are neglecting the resource they have in property owners in helping to catch criminals in the act.

City officials defer too much to neighborhood groups whose organizations have too many busy-bodies filled with envy and resentment directed toward landlords. Many of these neighborhood activists want to use the city to punish and destroy landlords so they can acquire their properties. This is a breeding ground for the politics of hate.

The MCDA appears to be a private club which steals properties from private-sector landlords using condemnations by eminent domain with low compensation rather than fair market value. Its staff “thugs” threaten to use legal force to overpower the small landlord. Then the MCDA makes its properties available to certain favored developers and nonprofits while shutting out the ordinary investor.
Certain City Council members are openly hostile toward landlords and act in unethical ways towards them. Considerations of money may be driving some of these decisions.

The city police simply won’t respond to reports of crime unless it is of a certain magnitude. Response times are generally slow. As a result, many inner-city residents have given up on hopes of police protection.

The city has torn down way too many buildings through its mistaken policy of blaming buildings for crime.

The general pattern of community policing in this city is for two parties to sit down together (the neighborhood activist and the SAFE officer) and blame a third party (the private-sector landlord) for crime. They generate a big paper trail while doing little to solve crime.

City inspectors fail to tag tenants for certain code violations which are the tenants’ responsibility under city ordinance. Instead, they ticket the building owner. So the city is breaking its own laws.

The policy concerning 911 calls unfairly punishes landlords for crime, especially owners of the larger units.
The city forces landlords to violate tenants’ rights by punishing them before they have been judged guilty of a crime. The city pressures landlords to evict all tenants, innocent as well as guilty, when crime has occurred in a building.

The city is too quick to condemn buildings. Its code-compliance requirements make it too expensive to rehabilitate properties. City licensing of contractors drives up maintenance costs.

The city admits it has no obligation to train inspectors. It turns this politically supercharged group loose on neighborhood property owners. The Housing Board of Appeals is a farce - stacked with neighborhood activists, big suburban landlords, and political appointees of the City Council.

There are too many ways for the city to punish landlords for tenant behavior. We object to being recruited to work for a “Nanny state”. Do honest and effective police work and our problems with crime would be solved. Judge Mabley has accused the city of foisting an unfunded obligation upon private-sector landlords. The police department should bear the principal cost of crime-fighting.

 

Some Suggestions for Dealing with Persons Thought Undesirable as Tenants

(1) The City of Minneapolis might maintain on its web site a section which reports on individuals who have engaged in criminal activities or otherwise been undesirable tenants. List the individuals’ names (including aliuses), date of birth, and Social Security numbers. The police and landlords would provide information on incidents related to these people. When screening applicants for a vacant apartment, landlords could check the city’s web site to see if the applicant has a record and, if so, what is the nature of his or her past rental history. If possible, the web site should include photographs.

(2) Since persons on that list might have a hard time finding housing in Minneapolis, the city might assign a social worker to them who would be their advocate. This advocate would advise prospective landlords on how to handle problems that might arise. If the tenant is accepted, this advocate would be someone for the landlord to turn to to help solve the problem if a problem arises.

(3) The Minneapolis police should make a point of regularly mailing a copy of the police report on criminal incidents to landlords whose buildings are involved. Let the landlord know who is doing what. This information might be useful in eviction procedings.

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