Crime free housing law moves closer to adoption

Trying to stem the increase in crime in Sunnyside the city council, last night, took steps to adopt an ordinance that would require all owners of residential rental property to obtain a license, which would be issued by the Sunnyside Police Department.

The council held a public hearing at last night's meeting to hear comments from the public and expect to vote on the ordinance at a special meeting on Monday, June 21.

City Attorney Scott Beyer told the council crime free rental housing programs are widely used in the United States, with more than 1,700 cities in 43 states having adopted such measures. The program, he said, is designed to help police, landlords and tenants work together to provide crime free housing, which is expected to improve the safety and security of the residents of Sunnyside.

There is a fee proposed to the residential rental housing license. The annual license would cost $100 for the first residential rental unit and $50 for each additional unit. The fee would be capped at $750. Failure by any landlord to obtain a license would be subject to a fine up to $1,000 or a jail sentence up to 90 days, or a combination of both.

Under the current proposal, the fee for the license will be waived if the property owner agrees to participate in the crime free rental housing program.

The program will require property owners, or their agents, to receive workshop training that will include training on rental applications, rental agreements, tenant screening, evictions, Section 8 housing, working with the police, criminal activity identification, drug use in rental properties, gang activity identification and crime prevention through environmental design.

The police department will provide public records of activities occurring on rental property and of activities involving rental applicants and other occupants to property owners, managers and leasing staff of the affected property.

The program will require rental owners to evict tenants that participate in crime on the rental property or fail to keep guests from committing any crime on the property.

Although the program is voluntary, if a rental unit experiences two or more incidents of criminal activity the Sunnyside police chief can require the owner to participate in the crime free rental housing program. If a participant in the program does not comply with the requirements of the program the rental license may be revoked.

Sunnyside Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck, who helped draft the proposed ordinance, said the goal is not to collect any fees for the new license, but instead, he would like everyone to sign up for the program. This, he said, would help the police department to know who is renting and where.

Several owners of rental property were on hand at the public hearing and many expressed support for the ordinance. Although all supported the spirit of the ordinance some worried about the fees for the license, especially in the future.

Another property owner thought the ordinance put the burden of policing the city's residents on the landlords and not the police department.

The program requires tenants to be evicted if they commit a crime on the rental property. One rental property owner thought it should be changed to a crime committed anywhere.

"I think that should be struck," Jon Nelson told the council. "I don't care where it occurs, I don't care if it's in Idaho, if they're engaging in it, it should apply."

Council members decided to compare the most recent copy of the ordinance with an original draft before making a decision, although council seemed to favor the crime free rental housing program as proposed.

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