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Police turn up heat on landlords
Targeting Top 10 least desirable places to live next to list
Manteca Police are coordinating an effort to go after properties where code violations are breeding serious criminal activity. This is the back yard of a Manteca home targeted a few years ago. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Every eight days in the past year Manteca Police have responded to one particular residential address.

That’s 44 calls for service for problems ranging from suspicious criminal activity to disturbing the peace.

“That’s our worst offender in Manteca,” noted Police Chief Dave Bricker as he glanced over a report detailing crime call frequencies.

The address in question is on Lovell Court in the once fashionable Magna Terra neighborhood to the east of Doctors Hospital of Manteca. It made the top spot on Manteca’s Top 10 least desirable places to live next to list.

Manteca Police last week launched its planned ongoing effort to fight crime by targeting the most chronic problematic neighborhoods in Manteca. But instead of just sending in police, the department is unleashing building inspectors, code enforcement, fire marshals and others involved with health and safety issues to go after problem properties that almost always create crime problems as well as quality of life issues for neighbors.

Among the targets are abandoned vehicles, graffiti, and draconian property maintenance problems that are health and safety issues

“It’s a slow process but we’ll get there,” Bricker promised.

The strategy is based on the same premise that Manteca used to drive the now disbanded MCOPS unit that was started in the 1990s. At the time, police noticed that 90 percent of the crime was being committed by 10 percent of the criminals. The MCOPS unit was formed to go after that 10 percent, build cases against them and then them off the streets. The same philosophy is being used against problematic property. They department has formed a list of the 10 top properties in Manteca based on criminal activity and problems gleaned from repeated calls for service.

The big difference is the property owner will be targeted as much as the law-breaking tenant.

It is based on the fact inattentive landlords allow property conditions to breed crime or fail to properly screen tenants often allowing those with checkered pasts or gang affiliations to move into neighborhoods.

Bricker acknowledged that the department has received flack for “going after the property owner instead of the criminal.”

The police chief noted the property owner is profiting from the housing where crime is creating a problem for law-abiding neighbors.

“If we had a similar problem with a bar causing such problems and went after then (to maintain their property) no one would object because it is a business,” Bricker said. “Renting a house is also a business.”

The goal is to have landlords responsible for the condition of their property and how they rent it as a business. The goal is to get the landlord to evict problem tenants and put in safeguards to make sure they don’t reintroduce criminal elements to neighborhoods.

Bricker said the department’s program can’t help solve all problems.

“We’ve had people asking us to do something because of repeated loud music and other such issues they have with neighbors,” Bricker said. “We can’t help them with someone who is being a bad neighbor. What we can do is go after activity that breeds criminal activity.”

The effort is being helped by the City Council’s move to put in place property maintenance ordinance that went into effect last month as well implementing an administrative fining process that allows the city to bypass the court system to get relief from problem properties.

“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.

The police chief said most in-town landlords 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.

Responsible Property Ownership ordinance
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.

The ordinance creates a mechanism for going after safety violations.

Safety violations in the ordinance are defined as:

•evidence of illegal manufacturer, 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.