Wednesday, May 2, 2007

TROUBLE TOWN, PT. 3: Columbia's Chronic Nuisance Property Law

A new law to reduce crime on rental properties
COLUMBIA, 5/2/07  (Beat Byte)  -- When the Columbia City Council passed the chronic nuisance property ordinance in November 2006, Council members agreed that "chronic unlawful activity on property diminishes the quality of life in the neighborhood," adding that it was "in the public interest for property owners to be vigilant and responsible."

The law was a long time coming, first taking shape in 2001
Property owners who don't take action against scofflaw tenants, noisy parties, and criminal activity should expect sanctions under the new nuisance ordinance -- Section 16-315D of the city code. 
One subsection, 16-317, defines "chronic nuisance property as residential property on which or within 200 feet of which any person associated with the property has engaged in three or more nuisance activities during any four month period," advises Columbia police officer and crime-free housing director Tim Thomason
But while the definition may sound simple, enforcement can be a tricky proposition. 
"When there are two nuisance activities, landlords or property owners get a certified letter saying 'your property is in jeopardy,'" Thomason explained.   "But the ordinance gives the landlord an affirmative defense so long as action is taken to get rid of the associated person." 
Thomason also reminds that since the ordinance was passed on 11/6/06,  "we can only use incidents occurring from then to present.  An arrest is not necessary, but we must have an offense report listing one of the specific criminal codes listed in the definition of nuisance activity."
Because enforcement of the provision lies entirely with police chief Randy Boehm, citizens who want their neighborhoods cleared of crime have to be vigilant in reporting unlawful activities on or within 200 feet of private property. 
That way, neighbors can be better assured that officials will uphold both the letter of the law and its council-defined spirit:  "to maintain a desirable quality of life in Columbia by holding property owners responsible for the use of their property."

Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance -- Key Chapters (broken links may occur)

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