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Fighting crime in Manteca: Enforce property upkeep
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Do you want to see a lasting reduction in drug-related crimes, property crimes, and blight?
It can happen and Manteca doesn’t have to hire a battalion of police officers to do it.
They need to pick up the ball they dropped in the middle of the housing crisis.
The “ball” was a game plan to treat landlords just like any other business in terms of the enforcement of health and safety laws.
Drive down your street. How many rentals are there? You may see them as houses with people in them but the bottom line is they are all businesses. A landlord owns and operates them just like a 7-Eleven franchisee owns and operates a convenience store — to make money.
Manteca Police a decade ago after wrestling with vagrants trespassing and occupying foreclosed properties they had no legal authority to act on complaints until they could establish and contact who ever had taken possession of the house, thought things would improve when investors started snapping up foreclosures. It didn’t improve all that much.
That’s because those buying foreclosed homes were either novices at being landlords, lived hours, if not days, away as far as Canada, or simply got away with bad practices.
Manteca Police were in the initial stages of a “landlord education” program regarding the best practices for screening applicants and maintaining property when budget cuts hit. They were also preparing to use existing laws as well as explore ordinances that would hold property owners responsible for creating conditions that breed criminal activities including not thoroughly vetting tenants.
The most egregious examples are drug houses. In one case an out-of-town landlord rented a home in my neighborhood for six months in advance in cash at a rate that was above the market. Of course, after he got saddled with health department clean-up bills his insurance company would not cover he complained bitterly.
Landlords need to be educated — or schooled depending upon their attitude — not just in basic laws involving property upkeep but also in the best practices for screening prospective tenants. Not only does that provide a better outcome for a neighborhood but it also helps protect the landlord’s investment.
A decade ago the Manteca Police saw such a program as proactive policing or good, old solid crime prevention.
They employed a multi-agency and multi-department task force to “clean up” the Southside Park neighborhood, apartments on Crestwood Avenue, and second-floor downtown drug dens. By going after landlords on health and safety violations and addressing irresponsible property management they were able to flush out criminals, drug users, and gang members. How did that happen? Outside of warrants and such, the real effective tool was forcing the landlord to comply with health and safety issues that usually meant them spending a healthy chunk of money on their property. That meant they had to either raise rents or be more vigilant in making sure their tenants don’t send their property — and the neighborhood — into decline.
If you think this is overreach, remember those rentals on your street are a business first and foremost. They are no different than other businesses which means they can be held to the same standards as a Target.
The trick to making such an effort work to battle crime communitywide is to beef up the code enforcement effort. The city also has to stop relying 100 percent on the snitch system.
That may mean annual or bi-annual inspections for public health and safety reasons. It also means analyzing complaints received on various addresses and determine if there is a need for focused code enforcement.
To accomplish, the city may have to hire two more code enforcement officers review and update property upkeep ordinances to make them as muscular as possible under California law, and stay committed.
While owner-occupied homes wouldn’t be exempted, it is clear under state and federal laws that government agencies have more leverage over a business which includes property being rented for the purpose of making money.
There is a reason why well-managed properties aren’t cesspools for crime and blight. Ask Councilman Gary Singh who effectively employs best practices for managing property he owns and/or oversees. Singh is by far in the majority.
The goal is to make neighborhoods near Kingswood Park, downtown, Woodward Park, or any other locale in Manteca tough for drug houses to locate and operate.
Manteca lacks the resources and manpower to sit on all such drug houses 24/7 until they gather enough evidence to prosecute which can take years. But targeted enforcement of property upkeep related laws will make it difficult for drug houses to function.
Essentially you are fighting blight and petty crimes and thefts at one of the key sources — drug use. Instead of just going after the actual perpetrators, such an approach would chip away at their ability to exist in the first place.
Enforcement of property upkeep laws using administrative law judges is much quicker and more effective.
It is true drug houses have to operate somewhere and drug users often trash property but why should it be in Manteca?
The best way to stop playing catch and release with vagrants and those committing quality of life crimes and misdemeanor thefts is taking away their ability to crash in Manteca.