From: Brian Day

Winona

 

I read with dismay Winona Post Editor Chris Rogers’ opinion piece of December 7.

In his op-ed, Mr. Rogers frames the city's proposed Chronic Nuisance Property ordinance as overly broad. He expresses concern that the long list of potential infractions gives police and city government too much latitude to kick people out of their homes for trivial reasons.

I respectfully disagree.

True, the ordinance does include a long list of Minnesota code and statute violations that could trigger a "strike" against a property. Some of these, like failure to shovel the snow or barking dogs, do seem trivial at first glance.

But the list also includes other, far more serious violations: assault, disorderly conduct, prostitution, possession and sale of controlled substances, possession of stolen property.

I understand that Mr. Rogers would be more comfortable with the ordinance if only the most severe violations were retained. Unfortunately, this does not reflect how problems with criminal activity play out in real life.

The reality is that if someone is selling drugs on your block, you need a way to stop it. It's unsafe to have that sort of activity happening in any neighborhood. It’s even worse when young children live nearby. Drug trafficking goes hand-in-hand with violence and property crime. Yet, too often, law enforcement has limited powers to address these situations. Arrests are made. Suspects are released. Things go back to business as usual.

It just so happens that the tenant who's selling drugs also tends to be the tenant who has piles of trash in the yard, unshoveled sidewalks and other seemingly trivial infractions.

The proposed ordinance first warns the landlord about the violation so it can be corrected. A second violation triggers a harsher penalty: The landlord must submit a written report or face the possibility of a fine or loss of license. Only after three police calls in 12 months does the ordinance trigger a mandatory fine and temporary suspension of rental license.

This means that landlords and tenants have two opportunities to correct their behavior before anything happens. It's the rare person who wouldn't change their behavior in this situation to avoid another call. After all, how hard is it to pick up your trash? We all do it.

The issue is that some people, a very few people, won't change their behavior. If they would, we wouldn't have any "problem houses" in Winona. There would be no need for an ordinance like this one.

Mr. Rogers asks, "But if [city officials] wanted to throw the book at you or some poor Joe, what would stop them?”

The answer is simple: The ordinance includes multiple safeguards to prevent abuse.

Not only does the ordinance provide tenants with ample opportunity to correct their behavior but it also provides the landlord with an opportunity to appeal. On top of this, penalties aren't automatic. They require a City Council vote. No license suspension can happen unless the council votes for it. This process provides many chances for tenants and landlords to avoid penalties and protects against arbitrary or capricious enforcement.

My wife and I happen to be among the unfortunate people that Mr. Rogers feels sympathy for in his piece. For a little over a year, we've lived within a few hundred feet of one of the three or four properties that Winona police identify as chronic problem houses for drugs and crime. This property might receive three police visits a day, let alone in a year. More than once, squad cars slowly patrolled our street looking for a man who appeared to be out of his mind on drugs, wandering aimlessly. Muttering incoherently. Strange vehicles with out-of-state plates arrived at random, often accompanied by screaming fights in the middle of the night. There was a very real concern about physical violence. And yes, there was trash piled in the alley.

The police told us there was nothing that could be done to address the problem. Our neighbors told us it had been like this for years through a series of different tenants.

The real motivation behind this ordinance is to address the few properties like this one that exist in our community.

The fact that the ordinance includes seemingly trivial code violations does not diminish this. It simply gives our law enforcement professionals additional tools to address criminal activity that would otherwise go uncorrected.

Reasonable people can disagree on issues of criminal justice and law enforcement, but we all want to be safe and secure in our homes. We all want a safe community. The proposed Nuisance Property Ordinance is an important tool to help make this a reality.

I urge concerned citizens to contact their City Council members and ask them to support the measure.