District judge rules in favor of Cedar Rapids nuisance abatement program

Local landlord had sought to block nearly year-old initiative

By Rick Smith, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Linn County District Court judge has sided with the city of Cedar Rapids and has rejected a local landlord’s effort to block the nearly year-old nuisance-abatement program that requires landlords to attend a training session.

In denying landlord Mari Davis’ request for a temporary injunction against the SAFE-CR program, Judge Mitchell Turner said Davis faced no hardship that required him to stop the program while Davis and her attorney, Bill Roemerman of Cedar Rapids, attempted to argue further that it is not permitted by Iowa law.

Turner said Davis had not shown “a likelihood or probability of success” if she proceeded with her fight.

Turner said owners and managers of 98 percent of Cedar Rapids’ rental property have complied with the program requirements, which include a one-time, half-day training program. The judge also said that it would be unfair to those property owners if Davis wasn’t required to meet the same standards.

Davis filed the lawsuit along with a business she operates with her husband, Dav-Mart Properties LLC, as well as an out-of-state owner of Cedar Rapids property, Lisa Pazour.

Davis was the only one who testified for her cause at a July 31 hearing in Linn County District Court.

In his ruling this week, Turner provided a sweeping endorsement of the city’s ability to create and operate its SAFE-CR program.

Turner said Iowa law permits a city under Iowa’s Home Rule to require landlords and property managers to attend rental business training, to conduct background checks on tenants and to pay a fee for a landlord business permit.

“The Court agrees with (the city’s) position that the city has a legitimate public interest in ensuring that property managers are knowledgeable of the city’s property maintenance standards, the city’s means of enforcing those standards, applicable nuisance and criminal laws, and the various resources available to them as property owners or managers,”

The judge continued: “It is clear that the challenged provisions in this case serve to protect and preserve the rights of Cedar Rapids residents to safe and secure neighborhoods, as well as provide for a fair allocation of the risks and costs associated with tenants’ use of rental properties. ... The public interest in enforcement of the provisions of (the city statute) far outweighs the relatively minor burden that is placed on (Davis and other property owners and managers) in complying with (the statute).”

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz on Wednesday said the city is pleased with the court ruling, and he said the city now will wait and see if the court action is dropped or continues.

“The city has believed very strongly that this is a critical program for the future of our neighborhoods and the vitality of our community,” Pomeranz said. “And we have always believed that the city has acted absolutely properly and within the law. So we appreciate the judge’s analysis and ruling.”

The City Council’s work in 2013 on two chapters of the Municipal Code that relate to the SAFE-CR program completed years of effort by the council to try to come up with legislation to improve neighborhoods. The program covers all property, not just rental property.

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