The Hot Beat

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The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

This blog has moved

I’m over at GazetteOnline now, just a cog in the big news machine.

You can get to my blog by either following this link: http://gazetteonline.com/blogs/the-hot-beat, or by going to www.gazetteonline.com and clicking on the blogs tab near the top of the page. The Hot Beat is one of several blogs listed in the pull-down menu.

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Fargo flood protection tax passes in landslide

They don’t have a specific plan yet, but voters in Fargo approved a half-cent sales tax on Tuesday to pay for permanent flood protection.

Fresh on the city’s mind is the flood this spring, that required citizens and city workers to build miles of temporary levees out of sandbags and HESCO baskets.

Plans under consideration are a Red River diversion channel through Minnesota, and a $625 million levee system. Fargo’s population is about 90,000.

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Where are Section 8 housing vouchers used in C.R.?

There’s a huge cluster in Wellington Heights. Here’s the map:

Section 8 Housing Map

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Off for a week

I’ll be off work from May 30 through June 7, and I don’t expect to be blogging.

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Evictions not easy, landlords say

Below is a story I’m working on. Any ideas? Jim Cannon, I know you’re out there!

Eleven years ago, one of Keith Smith’s tenants fell a couple months behind paying rent, and Smith prepared to evict the resident.

He hired a lawyer and took the case to small claims court. But a judge threw out the eviction because Smith filled out the paperwork incorrectly.

“It was the only case I’ve ever had thrown out, and it was a very expensive education,” said Smith, now the president of Landlords of Linn County.

Some 2,188 evictions were filed in Linn County in 2008, and another 710 in Johnson County. More than 60 percent resulted either in an eviction or the landlord dropping the eviction.

That left about 1,000 cases last year in the Corridor where the landlord and tenant duked it out in court. Landlords say these cases can be complicated and expensive.

A spring flurry of crime in some Cedar Rapids neighborhoods has pushed landlords into the spotlight, as neighborhood advocates and police ask them to take more responsibility for their properties.

In April, Terry Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, accused some landlords of being indifferent to the neighborhoods where they own property.

“As long as the check comes, they don’t care who lives there,” Bilsland said. “On some streets, it’s the same houses year after year.”

The city is considering a requirement that landlords obtain city licenses and follow certain rules to keep their registrations — such as including a crime-free addendum on the lease or running background checks when tenants apply.

Tenants can be evicted for not paying rent, violating their lease, or posing a “clear and present” public safety danger. Landlords must serve a specific notices for each type of eviction and explain specifically what the tenant can do to fix the problem.

A mistake — not notifying a tenant she has three days to pay unpaid rent, or attempting to charge late fees over $40 — will lead to the case being thrown out.

“The biggest roadblock is not knowing what to do,” Smith said.
Smith maintains a 25-page document detailing each step of the eviction process.

Even in cases where police decide the tenant poses a clear and present danger, an officer must attend the court proceeding to testify against the tenant. Because in American courts the accused has right to confront her accuser, a letter from the police isn’t adequate.

“You can’t cross-examine that piece of paper,” said Jim Kringlen, managing attorney for Iowa Legal Aid’s Cedar Rapids office.

Iowa Legal Aid, which offers free legal services to the poor, defends about one tenant in eviction proceedings per week, Kringlen said, and they win most of the cases they take. Eight attorneys work for Legal Aid at the Cedar Rapids office, so they only take cases they think can be won.

“There’re a lot of landlords out there that know how to manage their property, and we don’t see them very often,” Kringlen said. “There’s probably just a certain, small, subset of landlords that aren’t good at managing their property.”

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New bill would have protected axed firefighter

The Iowa Legislature has passed a law that forbids employers from firing employees who are late to work because they are a volunteer emergency responder.

It’s House File 671. According to Section 100B.14:

“If an employee has provided the employee’s public or private employer with written notification that the employee is a volunteer emergency services provider, the employer shall not terminate the employment of a volunteer emergency services provider who, because the employee was fulfilling the employee’s duties as a volunteer emergency services provider, is absent from or late to work.”

This has no impact on Heath Omar’s dilemma, but it may prevent anyone else getting fired the way he was.

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Hot Property #1: 1410 Bever Ave. SE

1410 Bever Ave. SE

1410 Bever Ave. SE

This is the address that got 71 police calls in 2008.

It’s a white two-story house owned by Vinnie Huskey Properties LLC, a company incorporated under Kevin Bachus, with a home office in Solon.

The home is right next to the Rose Apartments and it’s supposed to be empty. The city’s housing code enforcement office has posted a big yellow placard on the front door that says the place is “unsafe” and “unsanitary” and should not be lived in. The date of the notice is Feb. 27, 2009.

So imagine my surprise when I’m standing on the front porch, writing this down, and I hear somebody coughing inside. (Sorry. I didn’t knock.) All the windows are blocked with blankets, so you can’t see anything inside, but the place is run-down and the yard is mostly bare dirt.

The street was empty, pretty much, except for an old guy with a big beard sitting on his porch a few houses down on the opposite side of the street. He pointed out that several homes on Bever Avenue there are empty.

A man was stabbed in the chest at 1410 Bever Ave. SE in early February. It was the site of a shootout in May 2006, and the site of various assaults and other problems over the years.

Check out the Top 100 map here. When I profile a property, I’m going to mark it red on the map to and link back to my blog. Zoom in to your neighborhood and check it out.

Also, leave a comment. I’m going to try to talk to as many owners and tenants as I can.

Update: Police checked this house this afternoon and didn’t find anything, after a neighbor called in that somebody might be in there. Police said that while nobody was in there, somebody could well have been earlier. I’ve called Mr. Bachus and left a message, but haven’t gotten a call back.

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1635 Second Ave. SE

This is for the commenter we all know as “Concerned_Citizen,” who questions the existence of a property with the address 1635 Second Ave. SE.

His challenge comes at the bottom of a story about a shots fired report in southeast Cedar Rapids.

I only respond because I couldn’t find the property on the city assessor’s office website either, and that’s not a good sign for it really existing. But I was pretty sure it was 1635 Second Ave. SE, and reporter Phil Harvey drove by it a second time to make sure.

Here’s a picture I took:1635-second-ave-se

Actually looks kind of idyllic, doesn’t it? The building is full of apartments. Wonder what it was built for.

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Steamed at the jail

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller reports that the Alliant steam bill at the jail — which is uninhabited — was $21,000 from Feb. 18 to March 18. That makes the bill $94,000 over the past four months.

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Who is on this Compensation Board?

Following are the members of the Compensation Board that meets at 4 p.m. today at Westdale Mall to recommend the salaries for the Linn County supervisors and all the other elected officials in the county. Four attorneys, two businesspeople and a farmer serve on the board.

Their recommendation is effective July 1, and I’ve included in parentheses who appointed each member of the panel:

Steve Jackson Sr. (county attorney) — Jackson is a lawyer at Jackson & Jackson, P.L.C., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in family law. He lives in Cedar Rapids.

Phil Klinger (county treasurer) — Klinger is a lawyer at Klinger, Robinson & Ford, L.L.P., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in real estate and estate planning. He lives in northeast Cedar Rapids.

Allen Merta (supervisors) — Merta is vice president for economic development at Priority One, the economic development arm of the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce. He lives in northeast Cedar Rapids.

Mary Quass (supervisors) — Quass is president and CEO of NRG Media, a group of radio stations in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois. She lives in Mount Vernon.

David O’Brien (county recorder) –O’Brien is a lawyer at Willey, O’Brien L.C., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in representing plaintiffs who claim they’ve been injured by the acts of others. He lives in northeast Cedar Rapids.

Raymond Stefani II (sheriff) — Stefani is a lawyer at Gray, Stefani & Mitvalsky, P.L.C., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in malpractice and liability law. He lives north of Cedar Rapids.

Larry Wear (county auditor) — Wear is a farmer north of Center Point. He ran for supervisor as a Democrat and lost in the primary to Jim Houser.

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RSS Linn County Auditor on Twitter

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