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City council to revisit crime-free ordinance at its Dec. 17 regular meeting

Post Date:November 23, 2018 4:51 PM

Update: Following discussion at the Dec. 10 study session, the St. Louis Park City Council asked city staff to return with more information to the Monday, Dec. 17, regular meeting of the city council. View the presentation given by staff at the Dec. 10 study session. The Dec. 17 meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers at St. Louis Park City Hall, 5005 Minnetonka Blvd. View Agendas & Minutes for council meetings.

In response to recent news reports the city has received a number of questions about its crime-free housing ordinance. Provided below is background information about the ordinance and its origins. The St. Louis Park City Council will discuss this topic at its Monday, December 10, 6 p.m. study session in the council chambers at St. Louis Park City Hall, 5005 Minnetonka Blvd. More detailed information on the crime-free housing ordinance will be provided and discussed at that time. Study sessions are open to the public and anyone is welcome to attend to hear the discussion. 

Q: When and why was the crime-free housing ordinance passed in St. Louis Park?
A: The crime-free housing ordinance took effect in 2008 to address concerns about disorderly or criminal activity in some of the rental housing in the city. The majority of rental property owners in St. Louis Park managed their properties responsibly, and still do. However, the city had no way to hold those landlords accountable who were not addressing disorderly behaviors or criminal activity on their properties. Those activities negatively affected the safety and quality of life of the nearby resident renters and the community as a whole.

Q: Why was this seen as something important to address in St. Louis Park?
A: Of the 23,731 housing units in the city, 44 percent are rental – 10,421 units. A renter’s safety and quality of life is dependent on good property management by the landlord. Given the amount of rental housing in the community the city believed additional tools were necessary to ensure landlords were and are held accountable for good property management practices.

Q: Is the crime-free housing ordinance the only way the city ensures quality rental housing?
A: The crime-free housing ordinance is one of three components the city uses to ensure renters can feel safe in their housing. All three components, which work together to ensure safe, quality rental housing, are contained within the city’s business licensing/rental licensing ordinance and include:

  • Property maintenance and inspection program to help ensure the physical aspects of the rental housing stock are physically safe and in good condition. 
  • Crime-free housing ordinance to help ensure that families and individuals live in a safe environment. 
  • Tenant protection ordinance, recently adopted and one of the first in the state, to help protect and mitigate the impacts rental housing residents experience when naturally occurring affordable housing is sold and then either torn down or upgraded, resulting in rents that are no longer affordable to the current residents. 

Q: How do tenants know they are subject to the crime-free housing ordinance?
A: Residents are made aware of and agree to the terms of the crime-free housing ordinance through a lease addendum when they sign their lease. The agreement states they are responsible for their behavior and that of their guests. The consequence for violating the ordinance are outlined in the lease addendum. Landlords are required to include the crime-free housing lease addendum in their leases.

Q: Is every violation treated equally, with the consequence of immediate lease termination?
A: No, not every violation results in immediate lease termination and not every violation is treated with equal weight. There are two different categories for violation of the crime-free housing ordinance. One relates to documented criminal activity, such as drugs or violence, which can subject the resident to immediate lease termination. The other category covers less severe violations such as disorderly conduct. In that category, if a resident is found to have three documented cases in a twelve-month period, they are subject to lease termination.

Q: How many lease terminations have occurred as a result of the crime-free housing ordinance?
A: For 2017, which is the last full year of data, 29 rental leases ended as a result of the ordinance, out of the more than 10,000 rental units in the city. Of those, eight had incurred three documented incidents; while 21 resulted in immediate lease termination due to criminal activity, drugs, etc. More complete data, including years prior to 2017, will be provided for the December 10 study session.

Q: Is the police department actively looking for violations of the crime-free housing ordinance?
A: No, the police department isn’t actively looking for violations of the crime-free housing ordinance. In the vast majority of cases the police are called to an apartment complex based on a complaint from another resident concerned about the actions taking place in another rental unit.

Q: Why would someone have their lease terminated before they are convicted of a crime, or in some cases, if they aren’t ever convicted at all?
A: Immediate lease termination and criminal charges are two separate actions. Violation of the city’s crime-free housing ordinance is legally treated as a civil matter and not as a criminal action. In some cases, the police department has opted not to press criminal charges while still invoking the crime-free housing ordinance. The consequence of immediate lease termination meets the intention of the crime-free housing ordinance – maintaining the safety and livability of rental properties – without piling additional criminal charges on the resident.

Q: Is the St. Louis Park Police Department evicting renters from rental properties in the city?
A: No, the police department is not evicting residents from rental properties in the city. A majority of the owners of rental property in St. Louis Park manage their properties very responsibly and take action without the prompting of the city, assuming they were made aware of the activities on their properties. Under the terms of the crime-free housing ordinance, if a violation in one of the categories mentioned earlier rises to the level requiring action of the landlord, the police department sends a letter to the landlord informing them of the situation. If the conduct of the tenant rises to the level of requiring termination of the lease, and the landlord chooses not to pursue that action, they are subject to a $750 per month fine as long as the renter remains in the unit. The crime-free housing ordinance has a provision that allows a landlord to appeal the termination of a lease.