- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The council chambers were packed once again for the second and final workshop for the Crime-Free Multi-Housing program Monday.

City Administrator Bob Knabel opened the workshop with answers to questions asked at the previous gathering. The first question Knabel addressed was why should the program apply to just rental properties and not single family homes that cause similar problems.

“The answer is that all properties that have chronic issues with law enforcement should be dealt with consistently. We should be treating that law enforcement problem equally,” Knabel said.

Current city code has language in the nuisance ordinance police use to address the private, single-family homes that have issues. The department has begun this enforcement and will continue to do so, he said.

Another question was whether the Crime Free Multi-Housing program should encompass all types of rental properties. Knabel acknowledged single-family units were found to have fewer calls for police service, however, landlords eho own numerous properties should be treated equally with those large multi-housing units. Knabel’s recommendation is for landlords with three or fewer properties to not be required to participate in the program.

However, if the landlord has chronic issues with the law, they should be dealt with consistently, and Knabel recommended they be required to join the program.

A question that was brought up several times by multiple people at the previous workshop was: why should landlords that already do background checks be required to pay the city for the checks?

“It is felt that consistency is important so that all landlords are receiving appropriate information concerning the status of their tenants,” Knabel said.

He said the landlords can conduct their own background checks, if they follow certain criteria, and then the cost of the proposed fee would decrease.

A highly debated question among staff and landlords was why the city would include the cost of the training and education in the annual permit fee when landlords can obtain the same training for less cost.

“There are two main reasons for the city requiring its own landlord training. One, it allows for a connection between police personnel and landlords,” Knabel said. “Secondly, it ensures that the training is consistent with the city’s program.”

He said although the city staff feels those reasons are important, alternatives could be an option — the city could host sessions or develop a syllabus, inviting outside trainers and facilitating it to ensure it meets the program needs.

If the city goes that route, there would be a charge to attend the class instead of including the $5 cost in the fee increase. Still another option would be for the landlord to attend any class that meets the city’s accreditation. The landlord would then need to bring in a copy of his or her certificate of completion.

Finally, Knabel proposed a fee increase of $10 per permit fee. The increase would help to cover the city’s costs for the program, since the current program does not cover all of the costs.

Landlord Fred Rhodes then spoke before the city staff with a lengthy list of suggestions to be considered. He said there are ways to enact the program without charging additional fees that would be passed on to tenants who may not be able to afford them.

“Ames, Council Bluff, Davenport, Dubuque, Iowa City, Marshalltown and Waterloo do not charge for this program,” Rhodes said. “I am told by them that the program is so beneficial to the city and its residents that they are glad to absorb the cost.”

He suggested looking into grant programs to help pay for background checks, citing Dubuque as a city that receives $35,000 a year. Another avenue to save money is to partner with an outside agency, such as the Central Iowa Property Association, to coordinate training.

John Beck, of Krupp Properties, told staff about his experience with Crime-Free Housing, which he enacted on his own two years ago.

“It was simply a program I thought might be good fit for Krupp Rentals. I was tired of having the police come out for stupid, petty things that I thought I could find a different conclusion to those,” Beck said. “I truly have to spend zero money on it.”

Mayor Mike Hansen concluded the meeting telling those at the workshop they have “a council that listens to its citizens.”

“Some may have felt that this has been falling on deaf years, but it has not. You may have got that impression but a lot of times discussions happen between council members from input that they receive from individuals,” Hansen said. “This is how it is suppose to work. It was time to have a workshop so we could have a more in-depth conversation and share ideas.”

He said he was more than happy to work with the Central Iowa Property Association and work to make the program cost-free. He said the goal is to provide a safe living environment for all of those involved in Newton.

Proposed changes to the ordinance will go before the council at the Aug. 17 meeting.

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or [email protected]

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