Residents, City Leaders Get Second Bite at Proposed Chronic Nuisance Ordinance
SPPD Detective Sgt. Tony Babl with Mayor Andrew Halverson. Babl said the proposed chronic nuisance ordinance is just a tool city leaders- and law enforcement- can use to help stave off chronic nuisance offenses. (City-Times photo)
By Brandi Makuski
City leaders opted to delay moving on a proposed chronic nuisance ordinance, asking for an update in language after concern from both residents and area landlords.
Last year the Common Council turned down the ordinance, saying it unfairly targeting landlords for tenant behavior over which they have no control. Under the proposed language, property owners would be required to complete a nuisance abatement plan after three “citeable” offenses were reported on the same property within 30 days.
Now, both advocates and opponents of the proposed ordinance are getting a second chance to create a more clear and applicable law to target the city’s most problem properties.
“This would not be reflective of the number of times someone calls police,” Police Chief Kevin Ruder told the Council in November. “Rather, the number of offenses for which we would cite someone. So if you’ve got a neighbor who just calls the police for every little thing; that would not be held against the property owner.”
The proposed legislation was taken directly from Milwaukee’s chronic nuisance ordinance, according to City Attorney Logan Beveridge. On Monday Beveridge said the ordinance was coming back before Council Members without any revisions because a member of the Old Main Neighborhood Association (OMNA) had requested a new discussion, and because at least one alderperson had changed their mind about the ordinance.
“We were not aware when this ordinance came up the first time- we missed the boat on it. We should have been here but we weren’t,” said Cindy Nebel, president of OMNA- Old Main Neighborhood Association. “But I did read everything from the minutes that last time, and we think there’s a lot of mis-communication and misunderstanding- this is very similar to a chronic (nuisance) ordinance we already have.”
The city currently has housing ordinances related to licensed properties, but many of the problems relating to multiple police calls come from rental units not licensed, or illegally housing more than two unrelated tenants.
According to Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski, only rental properties with three units or more, or with three or more unrelated individuals within one living space need to be licensed.
City leaders did not immediately know how many such properties were within the city, but the Nebels say there were at least seven within two blocks of their Briggs St. home, bringing into question the effectiveness of the city’s inspection department and unenforced housing codes.
“There’s not much you can do when they have no license to begin with,” Nebel said. “But what I like about it is it tried to hold people responsible- but there are so many landlords who don’t live here, who don’t live in Stevens Point so they don’t see the effects.
Joe Cyran, who lives on Church Street, said he tries to educate his tenants about the city’s ordinances and being good neighbors, but student turnover is high and he doesn’t always have enough time for his messages to sink in.
“There’s a lot of ambiguities in here, a lot of vagueness in here,” Cyran said on the ordinance language. “There’s also a penalty cost for the landlord- my question is, why wouldn’t it be assessed to the tenant? If I knowingly allow something to go on at the house, it makes total sense that I should be fined for that. But if I don’t have any idea, or any control, over what’s going on- I can still get penalized for that. I don’t see how that’s fair to me as a landlord. We try to stay on our students, but we can’t watch them 24/7.”
Cyran also suggested making licensing a requirement for all landlords, giving the city leverage over nuisance rental properties.
Garett Ryan said he and his wife are considering moving out of the city because of the problems they’ve experienced with their home on Main Street.
“We bought our house a year and a half ago and we’ve called the police six times. We could’ve called them more- we’ve had our house peed on, we’ve been cussed at, there are massive parties across the street at 3 AM; it’s just not acceptable to not force these people to police their own business. To allow them to operate that way doesn’t make sense to me.”
But that doesn’t address problem commercial properties. Last year Ruder said some downtown businesses had repeat offenses.
Several area landlords said they felt unfairly targeted by the ordinance, but some homeowners came forward to say the ordinance doesn’t go far enough.
“The landlords here tonight clearly don’t live next to their tenants- you’re not awakened at 2 AM, you don’t know what goes on,” said Tori Jennings, a homeowner on Ellis Street. “When I get awakened at 2 AM and I call the police, everyone hides and runs and there’s no way of finding the person or the tenant. It’s much more complicated than the simplistic ideas being brought out here.”
Jennings also said landlords need to be held to a higher standard by the city.
“What I hear from the landlords consistently is that they’re not responsible, which strikes me as a false argument. They are responsible for what happens in their house,” she said. “I would think as landlords you sit down and sign a lease with them, and within that lease you have rules. If the students aren’t following those rules, then they get out.”
Alderman Mike Wiza said unclear language- rather than the ordinance itself- was the crux of the argument, and suggested residents and landlord submit ideas for the ordinance to the city attorney’s office.
“I understand what the intent of this ordinance is; we want to take care of properties that are problems because their landlords just don’t care or follow up enough. I don’t think that’s the case with most of the people here speaking tonight,” Wiza said. “It’s unfortunate you’re going to have to defend that aren’t here and aren’t taking responsibilities for their properties, which is- in my opinion- really the cause of the ordinance.”
Public Protection Committee Chairman Jeremy Slowsinki said the ordinance will be delayed until next month, when the local apartment association can meet with police and area homeowners to craft language. The full Common Council will also have a chance to discuss the proposed ordinance at next Monday’s 7 PM meeting in the courthouse. That meeting is open to the public.