Nuisance Initiative Becoming Reality
By Rick Smith, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A City Hall initiative, approved earlier this year by the City Council, is being rolled out to identify and reduce the number of nuisance properties in the city.
On Tuesday, the City Council established a training program for the estimated 2,400 landlords and property managers in the city, who must complete the one-time, eight-hour training class before July 1, 2014.
At the same time, the city is in the process of hiring five new staff members in the nuisance-abatement program, which is housed in the Police Department and officially begins work on Oct. 1.
Police Capt. Steve O’Konek said this week that one of the program’s two nuisance program abatement coordinators has been hired and a second is in process of being hired. The program also will include a data analyst and two background check technicians.
As of July 1, the city’s new nuisance ordinance requires landlords and property managers to conduct criminal background checks of prospective tenants, and the city’s program is offering to conduct those background checks for landlords for $8 a check.
Landlords have been skittish about a provision in the new ordinance which allows a property to be labeled a nuisance because of serious or repeated criminal acts by a tenant.
However, the nuts and bolts of the ordinance will allow several city agencies to feed information about property violations into the same database, which will provide quick alerts to property owners of problems at their properties.
In addition to criminal matters, a property also can become a nuisance for repeated health code violations, for repeated reports of junk vehicles and debris in the yard and for not mowing grass or shoveling snow from sidewalks in repeated fashion.
Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz on Tuesday said the new initiative is going to improve the housing in the city.
"We have the right team in place, the right technology in place and it’s going to make a difference," he said.
City Council member Monica Vernon, chairwoman of the council’s Development Committee where the nuisance property ordinance took shape, on Tuesday said the point of the city’s new law is to identify problem properties and get the problems remedied so they don’t fester and get worse over time.
At the ordinance’s heart, she said, is the belief that neighbors of nuisance properties shouldn’t have to put up with them.
"Everyone deserves the right to the quiet enjoyment of their property," Vernon said.
Vernon said only calls from constituents about the city’s problem streets outnumber the calls she receives about nuisance properties.
"Drip by drip, junk car by junk car, noisy party by noisy party, neighborhoods get broken up and ruined," she said. "… This is our way to say, ‘Alright, these are problems and we need you to take care of them.’"
The ordinance, which the city worked on for more than a year before approving it earlier this year, is modeled after an ordinance in Davenport.
The first training session is slated for late October for a first group of landlords and property managers. Four additional sessions will be scheduled in the subsequent months so all required to take the course at a cost of $50 each will be able to. Landlords of properties subsequently identified as nuisances will be required to repeat the class.
"Our real intent is to help property owners be successful," said the Police Department's O'Konek.
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