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Mandatory anti-crime course rankles MN property owners

By   /   June 25, 2013  /   2 Comments

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.”

ANTI-CRIME CLASS: Property owners attending recent 8 hour Phase 1 Crime-Free Training at City Hall in Wayzata, MN.

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 tom@watchdogminnesota.org

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Tom Steward covers government waste, spending and policy issues in his home state of Minnesota. Also a documentary filmmaker and in-depth broadcast journalist, Tom's work has appeared on NPR, Animal Planet, WCCO-TV, WGBH-TV, PBS, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, KSTP-TV, CBC, among other outlets. Highlights include the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Peabody Award, the first footage in the wild of the endangered Sumatran tiger and rhino and countless individuals who shared their stories, big and small. Steward served as a communications strategist in the U.S. Senate before returning to reporting on issues and people often overlooked by other media.

  • hardrockminer

    When I managed 66 units of section 8, inner-city housing, I managed received a monthly report from the police department. I had rules and regulations attached to the lease that included: domestic abuse- 2 incidents required that the victim obtain and ENFORCE a restraining order. Should she choose not to get the order, I agreed to let the family break their lease and move immediately. I agre.ed to give them a neutral reference. None of the attackers were husbands, they were boyfriends. Never in 15 years did one woman choose to give up her site based section 8 housing her family for an abusive boyfriend. I actively trespassed troublemakers. I was on site for 40 hours a week, but most problems happened after hours. I had many tenants that acted as informers with a guarantee of non-disclosure. I didn’t evict anyone in my last 8years of mgmt. Rules and follow through works every time.

  • bill

    Multi Crime Housing is a good program to eliminate drugs, crime off your
    property. But the police can still charge you with Disorderly Conduct
    over most anything they feel they want too. So the
    Police contacts the landlord over a police visit/report and will advise
    them to cancel the tenants
    lease or evict them. Even if its a minor complaint or minor offense like
    noise, tv or dog barking or a messy home. This program is designed to
    benefit the police and it makes the police the arm and muscle over the
    landlord. There is allot of illegal profiling of renters and
    discrimination within
    this program towards renters. the muliti-crime housing program treats
    all renters the same. but the failure of this program is the renter is
    still protected by federal and state law—some how this program thinks
    its above the law on minor offenses. and this program doesn’t allow no
    representation for the rights of the tenant its very one
    sided-profiling program. nobody will ever have a conversation with
    the tenant at all from this program–only a nasty warning letter in the
    mail..so if you are a tenant and you get a complaint and the
    are police called out for a minor offense(loud tv)…you are now on the
    shit list and they will work to get rid of you as soon as possible

    or not renew your lease. But the police will never speak to you
    directly–never! Nor will the police offer you any help or guidance. So
    this really is more of a POLICE STATE and illegally profiling renters
    as
    potential criminals. So if you are an unlucky tenant the landlord does
    cancel your lease. And you have no extra money or place to go you, you
    will be homeless. Remember when your lease is canceled you are required
    to pay the remain months of your lease. So if you try to rent again and
    you have an outstanding balance. No landlord will rent to you unless
    the
    outstanding balance paid. So more then likely you will be homeless and
    lose everything you own, etc. The only recourse the tenant has in this
    case over a minor offense(not crime, drugs related, etc). is to file a
    complaint with the attorney generals office and sue the landlord, if it
    is just small complaint and a one time mistake that you made, and you
    paid your
    rent on time and no other issues. the landlord will be forced to settle
    and/or work out a mutual agreement with the tenant. And just so you
    know. from the lawsuit, the agreement is with you and the landlord not
    the police. so if you do rent again with in the same city and the police
    find out you are renting in the same city. the officer running the
    multi
    crime program will contact your new landlord and disclose all of your
    previous history because in the past you violated the mulit crime
    housing program list of violations, so
    you are now a criminal over a noise complaint forever. and the
    landlord will be required to spy on you and report you to the police
    every breath you take. So
    the tenant over a minor offense as define by the multi-crime list of
    violations will always lose in this case no matter what. because this
    program is one sided only and benefits the POLICE. And the POLICE track
    how many violations,
    peoples leases canceled and what kind of complaints filed, etc. And
    which
    officer is running the multi crime housing program will get awarded and
    rewarded for a successful program.And this program will be deemed
    successful. The failure of this program is the
    tenant who was evicted over a minor offense is now homeless and this
    program has ruin
    there life forever. This program offers no help or support for renter
    at all over a minor offense.

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