Cedar Rapids Landlords Sue the City over Housing Code Rules

By Dave Franzman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Landlords in Cedar Rapids upset with part of a municipal housing code have filed suit against the city.

Property owners involved in the suit filed Friday objecting to a requirement that all landlords attend, in person, a training course on renting property to keep a license. They’re also upset with a mandate to be responsible for a criminal background check of prospective tenants.

Mari Davis, a local landlord and party to the suit, said this isn’t the first time the city has gotten sued over portions of the Chapter 29 Housing Code. In 2010, landlords also objected to a similar “crime free” addendum that landlords were supposed to get tenants to sign. A judge then tossed out some of the rules as unenforceable.

The city revamped some of the rules and last fall the requirement for mandatory landlord training took effect. Under the city code, landlords are supposed to complete training by July of 2014 or risk losing a license needed to rent property.

Lisa Pazour, also a plaintiff in the suit, lives hundreds of miles away from Cedar Rapids in Wisconsin. She has just one rental home in Cedar Rapids that falls under the rules. She’s rented property for 25 years, so she believes a requirement to attend a training session in Cedar Rapids is a waste of her time.

“A lot of us have been landlords for a very, very long time. And there’s nothing in those classes we don’t already know. So if you’re not giving me a benefit why am I coming?” Pazour said.

Landlords also believe the city is making them more responsible if something criminal happens involving one of their renters.

Jeff Niemeier, the owner of 43 rental units near Kirkwood Community College, said when police get calls about problems at his apartments they often don’t cite the tenants for any criminal activity. That would give him grounds for eviction. Instead, police can declare individual units a “nuisance” property under the housing code civil rules. In that case, any future police or fire calls to the same unit can trigger a service fee for the landlord.

Davis believes the city is making requirements and interfering in private contracts in a way that can’t be legally enforced.

“What they’ve done is to take a restrictive position thinking that the only way to manage crime in Cedar Rapids is to put it on the backs of landlords. That’s not the way to do it,” Davis said.

City officials hadn’t seen the suit itself and wouldn’t comment on the legal merits.

But Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman did explain why the Safe CR program, that’s reflected in that part of the housing code, needed the cooperation of landlords.

“Every citizen in Cedar Rapids is entitled to live in a crime free, nuisance free city and as part of that Safe CR assists in accomplishing that goal,” the chief said.

The suit filed Friday also raises questions about some of the fees the city is charging to landlords. The suit asks for a temporary injunction to avoid the July deadline for landlords to complete mandatory rental training.

l Comments: (319) 368-8611; dave.franzman@sourcemedia.net

facebook twitter email alerts you tube hooplanow