Repeat Police Responses may soon cost some property owners
Landlords will be more responsible for what their renters do under an ordinance the Wichita City Council approved Tuesday in an effort to deal with businesses and apartments that require frequent police responses.
Approval came after about half an hour of debate and comments from neighborhood leaders and landlords.
Mayor Jeff Longwell praised the ordinance as “a unique way to reach out and fix a problem we all agree is a problem.”
The ordinance will allow police to assess property owners for the department’s cost of responding to “chronic nuisance properties.”
Chronic nuisance properties are defined as those where a shooting occurs or a search warrant has to be executed by police. Also, properties where there are at least three “trigger events,” including violent crimes, prostitution, gambling, drug crimes, alcohol or tobacco violations, noise violations, littering, gang activity and violation of building or health and safety codes.
Neighborhood leaders have pressed for a crackdown on properties where police have to respond over and over.
Police Chief Gordon Ramsey said there are about 1,000 properties in Wichita where police have had to respond 11 or more times this year. Not all those properties would fall under the definition of a nuisance property because of the nature of crimes committed.
Domestic violence crimes in particular are excluded to avoid discouraging victims from filing complaints, officials said.
Area landlord associations reluctantly supported the ordinance, although they warned it could lead to evictions that possibly violate federal housing regulations and a 2015 Supreme Court ruling on housing discrimination.
Eviction is the only tool landlords have to address tenants who have frequent contact with police, said Clark Lindstrom, regional property manager with the Peterson Cos. and a representative of a property manager organization affiliated with the National Association of Realtors.
“Local government’s policies and practices to address excessive nuisance police calls, like this ordinance, have the potential to violate the Fair Housing Act when they have an unjustified discriminatory effect, even when the local government had no intent to discriminate,” Lindstrom said.
Two neighborhood leaders, Janet Wilson of northeast Wichita and George Theoharis of south Wichita, said the intent isn’t to discriminate against anyone, but to make life better for people who live in lower-income areas and have to put up with rowdy businesses and renters.
“They (police) are not going to use it as a club,” Theoharis said. “They’re going to use it like he (Ramsay) said, as education.”
City Attorney Jennifer Magana said she’s confident the ordinance can pass court scrutiny, and council members said they’re confident police won’t abuse the authority.
Council member Lavonta Williams thanked the neighborhood leaders for standing up for the ordinance and their neighborhoods.
“Ultimately, the neighbors right beside (nuisance properties) are the ones that end up suffering,” Williams said.