Proposed nuisance ordinance to address problem properties

The chronic nuisnance ordinance would hold landlords responsible for repeated offenses of tenants

TUALATIN - For residents in neighborhoods that are plagued with high police-call numbers, the problem isn't just loud neighbors or their potentially criminal or chronic nuisance offenses.

'It's the landlords,' says Cheryl Larson, a resident, property owner and committee chairwoman of the Stoneridge neighborhood in Tualatin.

'The problem in Stoneridge is that owners don't want to step up and evict the problem tenants. They just want to collect the rent,' Larson said as she spoke before a Stoneridge committee meeting last week.

The city of Tualatin has a specific crime property ordinance last revised in January 1999. It was designed to prevent landlords from turning a blind eye to criminal activity that occurs on their rental properties.

But city attorney Brenda Braden can't remember the last time the city actually enforced the ordinance.

'I don't know why (it) doesn't get used as much,' Braden said before adding that 'the new chronic nuisance ordinance will be used more often.'

A proposed city ordinance to be considered by the Tualatin City Council Monday night would hold landlords responsible for their tenants who prove to be chronic nuisances to a neighborhood.

'Tualatin has several problems where landlords rent to tenants who are chronic offenders of criminal and civil laws. These property owners fail to properly monitor the behaviors of their tenants, with the result that there has been an increase in crime, a decrease in the public health and safety, and an increase in police calls in those neighborhoods,' read the explanation provided for the ordinance in the council agenda packet.

While the city received no comments from landlords opposed to the proposed ordinance, Braden said the city received plenty of contact from Stoneridge residents in favor of it.

'Historically our neighborhood was very nice,' Larson said just as a new property owner joined the neighborhood group Thursday night. Larson has tried to keep track of all the property owners and property management companies that filter in and out of the 62-lot multi-family dwelling neighborhood.

Described as ground zero during the initial fights against graffiti in the city, the neighborhood's call volume has reportedly tapered off slightly since the city began a graffiti-removal pilot project that expired at the end of July.

But Larson wants to build on that momentum of success to make the neighborhood even better.

Last month when five juveniles went on a graffiti-painting spree on 22 different properties in the Stoneridge neighborhood, Sgt. Royanne Mathiesen with Tualatin police made sure to make a few phone calls to the boys' landlords. She wanted to let them know what their tenants were up to.

In May when Alejandro Ortiz and Yesenia Lopez were arrested for selling drugs out of their Stoneridge home, Mathiesen got a call from the property owner. Embarrassed by the media attention surrounding his property, the owner said he felt foolish for having rented to them and never realized what they were doing.

The proposed chronic nuisance ordinance expands the specified crime property ordinance to include everyday crimes encountered by police - offenses include harassment, intimidation, disorderly conduct, violation of the city's graffiti ordinance, possession, manufacturing or delivery of a controlled substance and criminal mischief.

The new ordinance would enable the city's police to cite a property owner in court if their property or tenants were the reason for three or more police calls within a 90-day period. The property owner, according to the ordinance, could receive as much as a $500 penalty for each day the owner had knowledge of the violation and failed to abate the violation.

Braden noted that the ordinance would likely also have levels of discretion when applied by the police.

The enforcement will likely depend on the extent of the nuisance and the disruption it causes to the neighborhood.