Tuesday, March 9, 2010

CRIME-FREE HOUSING? A Council candidate's criminal tenants, Part 1

"Tough on crime" City Council candidate Gary Kespohl discusses his tenants and their crimes  Part One

COLUMBIA, 3/9/10  (Beat Byte) --  For the second time in three years, Third Ward Columbia City Council candidate Gary Kespohl (left) has staked his campaign on fighting crime.  

"Gary is tough on crime," reads a page from Kespohl's campaign website.   "There were almost 3,000 police calls to Ward 3’s White­gate area alone since Jan­u­ary 1, 2009.   When it comes to keep­ing our neigh­bor­hoods safe, I stand with our cops in crime fighting."
At the January 29, 2010 Muleskinners forum, "Gary Kespohl attacked opponent Karl Skala’s commitment to reducing crime" , the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.   "Kespohl put his foot down on the issue of crime when he offered support for downtown surveillance cameras and red-light cameras as law enforcement tools."   

But as the owner and manager of several dozen rental properties in Columbia and Boone County, Mr. Kespohl doesn't seem to be putting his foot down about crime at all.   Columbia police officers and Boone County Sheriff's deputies have arrested and Boone County courts have convicted his tenants dozens of times in the past decade, for burglary, assault, sodomy, stealing, illegal immigration, child endangerment, drugs, resisting arrest -- even failure to register as a sex offender.  

Mr. Kespohl has also filed roughly two dozen lawsuits against tenants for failure to pay rent and/or property damage during the same period, statistics that suggest flawed or lax tenant screening procedures.   

City policy regards landlords renting to criminal offenders as contrary to community safety.  So-called "nuisance rental property ordinances" that list crime as a "nuisance activity" join Columbia police department (CPD) programs like Crime Free Housing and Neighborhood Watch to reduce crime and criminals on rental property.   

Because most criminal tenants live in low-income neighborhoods, awareness of the problem has been slow to build.   But build it has.  Tenants with long and violent rap sheets renting from landlords such as Wayne Fenton in North Central Columbia -- where Mr. Kespohl sits on the neighborhhood association's board of directors -- captured the attention of the Columbia City Council in Nov. 2008:   

Nuisances put focus on arrests 
Homes of offenders draw scrutiny of city council 

And over 100 people -- landlords, tenants, public officials, police officers, and interested citizens -- attended a December 2009 "Landlords Against Crime" summit at the Youzeum.  Renting to offenders was roundly condemned, and several speakers -- including CPD Crime Free Housing director Tim Thomason -- presented on ways to screen out criminal tenants.   

Ironically, Mr. Kespohl himself has been front and center on this issue.  He made cracking down on "nuisance properties" a campaign centerpiece during his 2007 city council run.  Touting his business acumen as a rental property manager, he warned on his campaign website against rental properties that "serve as the locations of perpetual nuisance activities" and advocated for an "improved police presence, increased enforcement of codes and the new nuisance property laws."   

But that didn't square with a former social worker who worked around Mr. Kespohl's rental properties.   Asking that her name be withheld from publication, she came forward during his first campaign.  

"I had no idea Gary owned these rentals.   When I did service coordination, this was one of the saddest areas I have ever seen," she explained.  "The properties are in poor repair, and renters reported that repairs were never made.  I worked with low income mothers who had gotten to the point that this was the only place they could live."   

Although this story surfaced late in the 2007 campaign and made its way to the Columbia Daily Tribune, sources there say that while Trib reporters wanted to run it, their news editors killed it, claiming that "every landlord has some problems with property and tenants." 

But as a city council candidate, Gary Kespohl isn't every landlord, and his problem tenants stand out, so much so that one wonders how he and his family cope with the stress -- and the business risk -- of dealing with so many offenders, so much of the time.  

To find out, the Columbia Heart Beat interviewed Mr. Kespohl.   Though he did not answer every question, he was generally candid, and did provide information about almost every tenant.   To provide greater accuracy, we removed police and sheriff arrest records Mr. Kespohl disputed that we could not also confirm with another source, and cross-checked courthouse records at Casenet, where in many cases the tenant profile only grew more troubling.    


1 comment:

  1. My name is Jason E Cox and I was a resident at 757 Demaret Drive in Columbia Missouri. My father and I rented the apartment together and the utilities were in my name. Mr. Kespohl blatantly lied with his statement that I was not a confirmed resident of said premises. The domestic dispute that occured during the time of occupancy was between my father and I. If a copy of said lease is available you will see the truth, thank you.