By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota
WAYZATA — Supporters tout it as a model program, bringing landlords and local authorities together to improve safety, cut crime and reduce police calls to rental housing and apartment complexes.
At least that’s the goal.
Critics, though, say the program is yet another example of government intrusion and regulatory overreach that infringes on property rights.
Some 100 Minnesota cities and police departments belong to a network of about 2,000 communities in 44 states — and even several countries — implementing the Crime Free Multi-Housing program, which began 21 years ago in Mesa, Ariz.
Cops from three Minnesota police departments posted on the Crime Free website rave reviews regarding the program’s effectiveness toward keeping rental properties crime and drug-free.
- “An overall reduction to calls for service and crimes by over 36%.”— Officer Kevin Wagman, Champlin.
- “One example here is a complex that has reduced its calls for service by over 55%.” — Officer Joe Cordie, St. Cloud.
- “This program has been great!” — Capt. Rodney Seurer, Savage.
To receive Crime Free certification, property owners and managers take a training class under police supervision, undergo a security assessment of their rental units and comply with other conditions. In some areas it’s become as standard as a property inspection, a prerequisite for receiving a city rental permit.
Yet a backlash has been quietly brewing among a new group of rental property owners increasingly required to complete the anti-crime crash course in Twin Cities suburbs — single-family home owners. The trend picked up with the wave of foreclosures that suddenly transformed these home owners into landlords.
“The Crime Free Multi-Housing program is really about the stability of neighborhoods,” said Heidi Nelson, Wayzata city manager. “Not only because our rental housing is very much integrated with our single-family neighborhoods but also for those one-off single family homes that are now rental homes.”
Wayzata first implemented the Crime Free program in 2008 but, due to budget cuts, dropped it until last year. The well-heeled suburb has the second highest density of rental housing in the metro area, with single-family homes accounting for roughly 15 percent of 700 total rental units.
The rise in single family home rental properties led Wayzata to require owners to take the same Phase 1 Crime Free Training course as owners of apartment complexes and multi-unit rental housing.
Critics say the greater threat lies in further government intrusion on home owners’ property rights.
“This is a prime example of regulatory overreach where city governments force everyone to go through the same process in a manner that large players in the market can handle and small entrepreneurs who want to rent out just one home get squelched,” said Anthony Sanders, a property rights attorney with the Institute for Justice.
The requirement to take an all-day mandatory classroom training session to get a city permit to rent their house has riled some single-family home owners.
“That is an assault on personal property rights,” said Andy Brehm, who rents his three-bedroom Wayzata colonial. “It’s government interjecting itself from the outset, making it illegal for me to rent my house out unless I spend 8 1/2 hours with them hearing about terrorism prevention and gang awareness.”
Brehm learned he was required to take the Crime Free class by accident, after calling the city about another matter. It isn’t the $25 cost of the compulsory training session that rankles the 32-year-old lawyer as much as being required to take a full Thursday off work, along with a roomful of other property owners.
“Renting out your house isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s common sense,” said Brehm, noting the rent class lasted almost as long as a bar exam. “I as a property owner have a greater interest than anybody in making sure I rent the property out in a safe and responsible way.”
“We get a lot of people, when we’ve seen these ordinances go into effect, like when Plymouth put our ordinance into effect, we got a lot of people that were kind of grumbling about it, that weren’t happy to be there,” said Angela Haseman, a Crime Free course instructor with the Plymouth Police Department. “But when they go through the training we get a vast majority of the people who actually attend the training rate it very high.”
Participants get a 100-page binder with 17 chapters covering everything from the three elements of crime to deadbolt locks and suggestions for approaching a police officer. The manual includes reminders such as “just because someone’s speech, actions, beliefs, appearance, or way of life is different, it does not mean that he or she is suspicious.” The seminar wraps up with a tutorial on how to avoid renting to a terrorist cell and a video on what to do if confronted by a lone shooter.
“That is an issue that does affect rental property,” said Officer Haseman, who gave the “Terrorism Awareness and Prevention” talk. “Criminals do use rental property and it’s something that’s a newer topic that people have to be aware of, whether you’re a rental property owner or not. So it’s very relevant to rental property.”
At a recent Wayzata City Council meeting, officials acknowledged receiving complaints about the rental class requirement from several single-family home owners. The chief of police who recommended and oversees the program, however, argued those property owners need the training more than most.
“The program identifies single-family landlords as some of the most vulnerable people that aren’t professional landlords,” Wayzata Police Chief Mike Risvold said during the council meeting.“They’re not people that rent their houses out on a regular basis or rent their property out on a regular basis.”
Just the same, the city’s mayor says the Crime Free course appears to take a “one size fits all” approach. “As we come up at the end of the year, it might be a good opportunity to revisit it,” said Mayor Ken Willcox. “… See what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and does it make sense to continue.”
Contact Tom Steward at firstname.lastname@example.org