If you think it’s a crime to have some of the neighbors you have, you might just be right.
Starting within the next several weeks, Manteca Police will launch a multi-department enforcement campaign designed to go after Manteca’s 10 worst neighborhoods.
It will involve unleashing not just police services but code enforcement, building inspectors, fire marshals and others involved with enforcing health and safety issues to go after problematic property.
The bottom line is to kick the bad neighbors out and force property owners to maintain their property. And if landlords refused to comply, the city will take the additional step of hiring someone to do the needed work and then assessing the costs and fines in such a manner they can attach future income tax returns of the uncooperative property owners.
Police Chief Bricker noted that one particular address that is on the Top 10 list had police called over 20 times in just several months.
The coming dragnet of problematic property in Manteca is the end result of the City Council putting in place a property maintenance ordinance in April. It legally went into effect June 27. Police since then have been working on building cases against the 10 worst neighborhoods in Manteca.
The property maintenance ordinance coupled with a new municipal ordinance that put administrative remedies in place for code enforcement issues means Manteca now has the means to go after property owners that fail to abate nuisances which could include tenants committing crimes with administrative hearings instead of going through the civil process. The courts system in San Joaquin County can take a year or more to get an issue resolved.
“People shouldn’t have to live with what they are living with,” Bricker said in reference to drug dealing, violence, excessive noise, vandalism, blight, and other criminal activity.
Bricker noted “most of the landlords we have in town” are cooperative adding that those who are local will almost always take care of a problem when police bring it to their attention. The problem are out-of-town landlords who fail to heed requests as they know the civil system is an extremely difficult and time consuming hammer for cities to use to enforce property maintenance laws.
“It (renting housing for money) is a business that make money and should be treated as such,” Bricker said. “If there were ongoing problems at a bar (police) have the right to walk in and address those problems. We can also go after their licenses needed to do business. You can’t do that with a private residence as you don’t need a business license to rent houses.”
Typical scenarios are out-of-town landlords renting houses out without thoroughly checking background. They end up getting gang members or others in the house that will pay the rent for several months but then stop paying. It then takes several months to get them evicted. Meanwhile, neighborhood problems skyrocket with everything from graffiti and wanton repetitive disturbing the peace violations to drug selling and other criminal activities.
Simply arresting the offenders does little good in San Joaquin County with its overcrowded jail. City leaders instead are opting to go after property maintenance issues that include the type of tenants that landlords allow.
Police are essentially using arrest records and complaints filed with police to build a case that will hold up in the administrative hearing process to force troublemakers out of neighborhoods.
Bricker noted the department’s definition of a “bad neighborhood” may involve one home or multiple homes where they are problems. It also can encompass problematic apartment complexes.
Bricker declined to identify the first 10 targets but noted they would be the “worst of the worst.” The goal is once a problem is addressed in one neighborhood to add another to the list.
Similar efforts have been issued in the past to clean up problem apartment complexes near Southside Park, on Wawona Street, and Northgate Drive as well as with downtown boarding houses.
The big difference this time is the city will employ administrative hearing officers. Also, if the city has to go in and abate a health and safety issue, they have the authority to place a lien against future income tax refunds instead of the property. By placing a lien on the property it means the city wouldn’t get reimbursed until the house sold.
The ordinance dubbed “Responsible Property Ownership” gives the city the authority to go after property owners for safety violations that would subject them to criminal and civil penalties.
Unlike criminal proceeding against individuals who may commit particular crimes, the courts have upheld the process that allows property maintenance laws to more effectively address health, safety and quality of life issues in neighborhoods. The ordinance not only has a mechanism for financial penalties whether it is through the administrative or judicial process but it also allows the city to recoup all of the costs it invests to try and get property owners to correct a problem.
The ordinance applies to all private property whether it is owner occupied, owned by a landlord or whether it is residential, industrial or retail.
“Most property owners are responsible in how they manage their properties,” Bricker noted in a memo to the council back in April. “Responsible property owners monitor their property and take appropriate and reasonable action to prevent or address behaviors or activities occurring on their property that contribute to crime or create public nuisances. A property owner that fails to take this action threatens the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood and the city as a whole, and it is necessary for the city to be able to undertake administrative or judicial action.”
a safety violation
The ordinance crates a mechanism for going after safety violations.
Safety violations in the ordinance are defined as:
•evidence of illegal manufacturing, cultivation, sale, use, or possession of controlled substances or illegal drugs using the bench mark of the arrest of one or more persons at a specific address.
•any drug-related nuisance occurring within a year of an arrest of the premises for a safety violation defined in the first point.
•any act of prostitution.
•any gang-related crime.
•the unlawful possession, discharging or brandishing of a firearm or a weapon by any person.
•violent crime acts, whether or not a criminal case has been filed, including but not limited to rape, attempted rape, robbery, battery, homicide, shootings, kidnapping, or arson.
•disturbances occurring at parties where alcohol and drugs are consumed and/or crimes have occurred.
•allowing the occupancy load to exceed state allowable levels when alcohol and/or drugs are being consumed or are accessible to the gathering.
Each violation will be treated as a separate incident and subject to a separate fine of up to $1,000 if it is pursued as a misdemeanor or up to $500 if it is pursued as a safety violation. If it is a safety violation, then the party will be held liable for any municipal administrative costs incurred by the enforcement of the ordinance.