The Newton Police Department and Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich have been working on a proposed crime-free housing program targeted at rental properties in the community.
The program is a combination of educating, permitting and enforcing initiatives for all landlords, covering all rental units within the community. Hoebelheinrich gave an update on the program at the city council meeting Monday.
“We looked at West Des Moines, Dubuque and Davenport. We used a lot of their information,” Hoebelheinrich said.
Participation in the program would be mandatory for all landlords and rental units. Training will be required for all landlords with the first round of training intended for those with the largest housing units. The training will be divided up for the landlords with more than 20 living units certified in the first year, and those with eight to 20 units certified within two years; all other landlords would be trained and certified in three years.
In the training, landlords will learn about crime prevention through environmental design, be taught resident selection and common sense self-defense. It will review good property management, combating illegal activity, dealing with non-compliance and partnership-building with the police department.
Landlords will also be shown how to go on Iowa Courts Online to check on potential tenants and the different between civil and criminal law. A handbook will also be provided, showing what to expect from inspections and sample notices for landlords to use, if applicable. Landlords will be told the consequences of nuisance violations, both by the tenant and the landlord.
A presentation will be given on steps the landlord can follow in case they need to evict a tenant before calling the police in for assistance. Landlord would have to document why the tenant has to leave before the police can act.
“We’re not looking to charge landlords, tenants, anyone for the training. We will provide all of the paperwork and help pay for it by increasing the rental unit inspections by $20. It will help us do all of this and then not cost them for the training and any background checks,” Hoebelheinrich said.
The training will take approximately one day for seven to eight hours.
As a part of the program, landlords will be required to have a lease with all of the tenants. A lease template will be provided to all landlords but they are not required to use it as long as the lease they use contains the necessary provision in the program.
Currently there are no restrictions on who the landlords can rent to, however, all landlords are required to complete a background and criminal history check. The city will complete those checks at no cost but they must be filed as long as the tenant occupies the unit. It is the landlord’s responsibility to make sure tenants follow the city’s crime-free and nuisance policy.
“I would just like to remind the council that some tenants will be evicted because of this process and possibly some landlords will have their rental units closed for not following the rules of our crime-free program,” Hoebelheinrich said. “This may make some uncomfortable, but it will ultimately make Newton a better, cleaner safer place to live.”
The department is in the process of purchasing a new software module that will track calls for service for all rental units. It will show the officers how many times they have been to a particular unit in a given time period and help have a constant contact with the management system to help them keep up with what is happening in their buildings.
Council Member Jeff Price asked about how people could be evicted but there are no restrictions on who landlords can rent to. Hoebelheinrich said landlords can rent to whoever they want, but if the tenants gather enough “points” for violations they will have to be evicted. The points are earned through the rental inspection program, if there are nuisance or bad conditions at the property.
“If somebody does get kicked out of a north side apartment and then moves into a south side, are we going to have the tools and do that background check to say ‘hey they just got kicked out of here?’” Price said.
The option is available through the software to be able to track where people have been, but the department did not choose the additional cost. Hoebelheinrich said he is hoping if the landlord realizes the person moving is a problem, they will contact the police and the department will be able to tell them the person had just been kicked out of a unit.
“It is kind of like a neighborhood watch. If everybody works together you move it out of the area. If the landlords get together and say that person is a problem, then they just won’t rent to them,” Hoebelheinrich said.
He said that in West Des Moines, he was told a certificate is placed that says the unit is a part of crime-free unit housing complex. When people see the certificate, they know what the landlord will not rent to them and they leave before even applying.
“I think there is a lot of great aspects to this whole program and I think it is really balanced both to protect tenants and provide good living space and protect landlords from troublesome, difficult tenants,” Council Member Noreen Otto said.
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or firstname.lastname@example.org