The Hot Beat


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

Hot Property #6, 300 31st St. NE

And we’re back! Back on the tail of Cedar Rapids landlords who own properties that can’t stop attracting the police. Sorry for the delay. We’ve still got a map, and we’re up to property number six.

It’s the Flagstone Apartments at 300 31st St. NE.

Police were called there 99 times in 2008. There are 16 apartments at that address.

Most of what I see in the archives looks like minor stuff.

Gordon Duncombe, the owner, has an office in St. Michael, Minn. The name of his company is Can-West Management.

“We have a lot of people that the county put in there,” Duncombe said. “They get stupid and they call the cops on each other.”


Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , , ,

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.”

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

Fire hazards at Hampton Court, #3

The basement hallway leading to the exit is blocked with shelves and other stuff. Several (perhaps all) the building’s smoke detectors don’t work.

The Hampton Courts are at 1261 and 1263 First Ave. SE, and fire protection isn’t the only problem.

Police were called to the two buildings 279 times in 2008.

One of the basement apartments in 1263 is unlocked and the floor is scattered with debris, with holes in the ceiling inside and outside above the door. The basement ceiling is spotted with holes.

Mold is growing in one of the apartments looking out on First Avenue and paint is peeling off the wall and piling up on the floor.

“These apartments are f—ed up,” said Timothy Van Ostran, who lives upstairs. “Every single one of them has something wrong with it.”

Van Ostran said it’s easy to rent there. No background checks.

“All you’ve got to do is come with the rent,” he said. “You don’t even need a deposit.”

I ran into the building manager, who lives there. He wanted to know who I was. I told him. I asked his name. He said his name was “Johnny.”

Later, we walked outside, where he called the higher-ups at Preferred Property Management, and then said: “Officially, I’m supposed to give no comment, and ask you to leave.”

Preferred Property Management runs the property, which is owned by James D. Houghton, who I called again this afternoon, but couldn’t reach.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #2: The Rose Apartments, 1407 Third Ave. SE

Rose Apartments, 1407 Third Ave. SE

Rose Apartments, 1407 Third Ave. SE

Not going in any particular order here, just starting with the low-hanging fruit and marking the map as I go.

This 12-unit apartment building at 1407 Third Ave. SE is just next door to Hot Property #1, the house at 1410 Bever Ave. SE. It’s owned by Steven Demeulenaere, who was beaten up outside the building last fall.

Police were called to the building 121 times in 2008.

I won’t get into much more detail here, because Gazette reporter Jeff Raasch profiled the Rose Apartments about a month ago.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , , , ,

Landlords give their side

The newspaper story today about a licensing program for landlords in Cedar Rapids brought some reaction from landlords.

The proposed program is one of several responses to the recent spate of crime in Wellington Heights and Mound View.

Doug Jones, a landlord who called me this morning, said evicting someone usually takes three weeks, a trip to court and $200, whether or not landlords are licensed.

Leave the policing to the police, he said, and leave the landlording to the landlords.

“They want us to be able to supervise people and we can’t do that,” he said.

He gave me an eviction scenario that he said was not uncommon. A tenant is causing problems, and he needs him to get out.

“You say ‘Get out.'”

“The guy says ‘F— you.'”

“What are you going to do, shoot him?” Jones asks.

Of course not, he said. You have to take him to court, and pay a bunch of fees. That’s state law.

The father of the owner of a rental property I mentioned in the story, 1502 Fourth Ave. SE, said it’s a hard to find good tenants.

“You try to rent to people that desperately need a house, and you have a problem,” he said.

If you try to evict them, they mess up the house.

“To find decent tenants is a hard job,” he said.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, , , , , ,

Pinning down the landlords

Take for instance 1502 Fourth Ave. SE.

Since 1992, the home has been the site of at least six assaults, and people living there have been arrested three times for burglary, seven times for assault, once for a robbery and three times on drug charges.

The home, owned by David E. Hartley, is not the only landlord-owned property in southeast Cedar Rapids with problems.

Landlords are coming under scrutiny in Cedar Rapids after a spring rise in violence on both sides of First Avenue East.

Landlord indifference is a major part of the problem, said Terry Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association.

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

The City of Cedar Rapids may soon require landlords to get city licenses and follow certain rules to keep their registration.

“We’re looking at the possibility of enacting some legislation where landlords have to be licensed,” Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham said. “We’re actually right in the middle now of drafting that legislation.”

Licensing might be reassessed each year, and landlords might be required to include a crime-free addendum on their leases. The license would cost a nominal fee.

The program would allow all city departments — police, code enforcement, housing — to easily share information about properties.

Other cities across the country have similar programs, said Tim Manz, Cedar Rapids’ interim code enforcement manager. One of those is Richfield, Minn., where City Manager Jim Prosser worked before he came to Cedar Rapids.

Once a draft of an ordinance is ready, Manz said it will be shown to landlord groups and other interested parties.

“We’re at least a month away from having the language ready,” he said.

A spate of shootings and robberies, a fatal car chase and a life-threatening attack on a police officer in recent weeks have brought a police crackdown to the Wellington Heights and Mound View Neighborhoods, but also a sense of urgency for local leaders and elected officials looking for solutions.

The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission held a forum Tuesday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, where Graham mentioned the possibility of landlord licensing.

“It’s a step we can take in bringing a little more accountability,” City Council Member Brian Fagan said. “Landlords are and can be part of the solution.”

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, , , , , ,

Landlord aid may be more hindrance than help

I’m still working on this story.

A new program meant to help flooded landlords is too restrictive and will discourage participation, some local landlords say.

When Gov. Chet Culver announced the Rental Rehabilitation program, in which flooded landlords can apply for up to $25,000 in forgivable loans for building repairs, landlords greeted the news with enthusiasm.

But the devil’s in the details.

The program is funded with federal community development block grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As a result, property owners who accept help will be required to rent only to low-income residents, and rent for any two-bedroom unit — even houses — will be capped at $634 per month.

Many landlords have already sunk thousands of dollars into flood repairs and face the added burden of paying for flood insurance. The owner of a two-bedroom home — and many flooded properties are rental homes, not apartments — will want to charge more than $634 per month.

“There are many people that will not be able to participate in the program,” said Mari Davis, who owns rental property and manages rentals for other small-time landlords.

Davis said some landlords won’t be able to recoup their losses, and the program will funnel low-income residents to flooded neighborhoods, perhaps lowering property values and leading ot undesirable tenants.

CDBG rules stipulate that landlords who accept federal money must rent to people who are at 80 percent of area median income or less. Rent can not exceed $634 for a two-bedroom unit, or $898 for a three-bedroom unit.

“The large percentage of rental properties that were damaged by the flood are single-family homes, they’re not apartments,” Davis said.

Landlords have received none of the recovery aid that’s gone to home and business owners affected by the flood.

The new program will change that and is supposed to provide much-needed affordable housing in Cedar Rapids.

In addition to the $24,999 available for repairs, landlords can apply for further assistance — for lead hazard reduction, project delivery costs and temporary relocation. Total assistance per unit cannot exceed $37,500.

Each landlord can get assistance for a maximum of seven units, though state officials are working on a different program that may expand that limit.

Filed under: Flood, , , ,

RSS Linn County Auditor on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Brent Oleson on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Ben Rogers on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Chuck Grassley on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Adam Belz on Twitter

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.