City Council Turns Down Nuisance Ordinance
Left, longtime rental property-owner Henry Korger speaks out against the proposed nuisance ordinance Monday night. (City-Times photo)
Council Ultimately Swayed by Landlords
By Brandi Makuski
A proposed chronic nuisance ordinance has failed to get approval from the Stevens Point City Council.
The ordinance, which once had heavier support from the Council, was turned down Monday after several landlords said the ordinance was unfair to property owners who have no control over their tenant’s actions. The ordinance would have held property owners- residential and commercial- accountable after police three citations offenses on their properties within a month.
City Attorney Logan Beveridge said the ordinance was modeled after a Milwaukee nuisance law, and he originally drafted the proposal for Stevens Point shortly after first taking office this year, when police officials informed him they had been repeatedly called to the same downtown bars for the similar offenses.
While no business owners from Downtown Stevens Point have spoken out during public meetings over the ordinance, landlords came out in force to argue against it. The city, they reasoned, already outlaws the offenses which would be classified as a nuisance, and offenders themselves should be held accountable with higher fines.
“When you bring in these young, fresh- faced kids as tenants, they have no references,” said local landlord Don Keck. “If they decide to have party after party, you can talk to them, try to counsel them, you put it in their lease not to have parties, but I become liable for their actions. That’s not fair.”
“It appears you’re pretty well determined to pass this ordinance,” said property owner Paul Wachowiak. “Landlords have a problem knowing what happens on their property- I don’t know if the police have been called to my property unless the neighbors tell me.”
Landlord David James, who is also a lawyer, said the nuisance ordinance could open the city up for a lawsuit. He said the ordinance gave too much power to the position of police chief.
“I know the individuals who will be making the decisions in this case, but we don’t draft laws in this country based on the individuals who are in office at that time,” James said. “I understand in a tavern or other business setting it could be beneficial, but in the residential setting I believe some changes need to be made.”
Police Chief Kevin Ruder has said the nuisance ordinance would be an “additional tool” for his department, as it is frequently called to deal with a noisy party but are unable to issue citations because no one answers the door.
“You run into Fourth Amendment issues,” Ruder said, “because you can’t just enter the property without permission.”
Council Members were divided on the issue but eventually failed to approve the new ordinance because of public objection.
“One of the many calls I received on this issue, the caller said (ordinance) the offenses tied to their driver’s license. That’ll get their attention,” said Alderman Roger Trzebiatowski “Apartment owners’ hands are tied- if they want to evict a tenant, often times it takes a year to get there.”
Council President Jerry Moore said he asked people to be patient with the proposed ordinance.
“I’ve had many people come and search me out; they’re very upset about this. I asked them to give it some time,” Moore said. “They came back and still weren’t happy, even with the revisions. I even had a lawyer say they were afraid this could open the city up to lawsuits.”
“I think it’s very important we put the fine on the tenants and not the landlords,” said Alderman Tony Patton. “If there’s an offense at an apartment or property, give them a fine and that’ll take care of a lot of the problems.”
City law enforcement, along with City Attorney Logan Beveridge, has said the ordinance was designed to protect landlords and other property owners in the long run, but Council Members said they would side with their constituents.
Stevens Point Mayor Andrew Halverson said the ordinance could come back to the Council in the future with additional revisions.