Recently we did the first reading of a landlord ordinance aimed at a severe crackdown on some of Rochester’s persistent problem “Slumlords.” I will have much more on the changes when this becomes law. While this has caused some angst with some landlords; in time they will see that this will not be a tool to hurt responsible landlords. (Or else they can give me a big, “I told you so…”)
One suggestion from some good landlords that came out of nowhere was that the city could should not issue “disorderly” property violations to properties unless the tenant also got a disorderly conduct citation.
Seems fair right?
This was a horrible idea based on good intentions. Here is why. A disorderly property citation is a civil fine meaning that it must be more likely than not that the violation took place. A disorderly conduct is a criminal violation meaning that the person must be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Even though the names are similar they are very different. Basically, a disorderly conduct violation is not likely to be issued unless an officer is present to see the violation or there is serious damage or injury. By not allowing a disorderly property violation unless a disorderly conduct is given, we would eliminate the overwhelming majority of our disorderly property citations. This would remove our police force’s number one tool against bad properties.
“Holy Soft on Crime, Batman.”
Despite the fact that I raised this point and explained the foolishness, the city council went ahead and passed it 6-1. What is particularly frustrating was the fact that a couple of council members that had made a recent point of not supporting anything that they did not have a chance to see it in writing days in advance were more than happy to vote for this on the spot, with no prior analysis. Even more frustrating was the fact that we slowed down this ordinance for two months and this did not come as a recommendation. Instead it was just thrown at us during the meeting.
Fortunately, the Police Chief weighed in and explained why this was foolish at a committee meeting. The council then agreed 6-0 that we should not include this change. We will change this for the second reading.
Now back to the, “Seems Fair” part. Most of our landlords are good landlords and should not be punished for the mistakes of others. State law does not allow us to issue civil (administrative) fines for disorderly conduct. But if we wanted to give the same citation to a tenant causing problems this would need to change. If we could give problem tenants this same civil citation there would also be a paper trail to tip off potential future landlords.
At the same meeting where the council changed course, I asked for and received unanimous consent to have the city request that the League of Minnesota Cities include a change to the administrative fines laws to allow cities to issue civil disorderly conduct citations.
Here is a note from the Mayor:
Last night I distributed a draft amendment to the Rental Property policy the League of Minnesota Cities will be adopting. The amendment reads “Municipalities should also have the ability to issue administrative fines to tenants who are behaving in a manner that is disorderly to the community.” I have received comments this morning from our police department that this amendment does not fundamentally change the issue and therefore do not think it is necessary. “If there is enough evidence to issue an administrative fine there most likely is enough to issue a criminal citation.”
Therefore, I may comment on this at the Board meeting this Thursday but not propose this amendment unless other Board members wish to have it included. If included and the legislature modifies the current
Administrative Fines State Statute it would allow administrative fines and would keep these out of the court system. As the police department stated, the landlord always has the right to evict a tenant(s).
Steve, would you share this with the City Council.
Mayor Ardell F. Brede
City of Rochester, Minnesota
Hopefully the state will make this change and then we can meet the landlords request in a responsible manner.