Thursday, January 13, 2011

LANDLORDS AND CRIME: Local teachers' rental highlights important issue

COLUMBIA, 1/13/11  (Beat Byte) --  He teaches French and she teaches -- or used to teach -- math in local public schools.  Both are alums of Mizzou and Columbia College.

But as owners of a rental house in Columbia's North Central Village, Morched Ben-Ayed and wife Lilia might want to become students of property management and learn about a growing concern to be addressed at a summit this evening:  how landlords can impact criminal activity. 
Neighbors have described "intimidation," "harassment" and "bad behavior," from people at the Ben-Ayed's rental house.  Police, they say, have visited the property several times in recent years.  Casenet and Columbia Daily Tribune reports bear out that claim.  From 2009-10, the Ben-Ayed's tenants have posted over $16,000 in bail bonds, for offenses that include trespassing, assault, immigration violations, leaving the scene of a traffic accident, driving while intoxicated, and out-of-county arrest warrants.   At least one tenant has a history of similar offenses dating back over a decade, a fact that tenant screening can catch. 

In Columbia, a significant percentage of criminal offenders are renters, and crime often cycles like a broken record:  break law; post bond; go home; pay rent; fail to appear in court; break the law again, often more violently. 
For crime-conscious landlords, the cycle isn’t that hard to break.
Columbia Police crime-free housing officer "Tim Thomason sends us a letter reporting difficulties each and every time one of our tenants gets into trouble,” said Phil Warnken of Warnken Properties.  Tenants who commit crimes “are out,” Warnken says.  “We evict them."

Though Lilia Ben-Ayed did not answer requests for comment, her husband indicated that he intended to respond to Columbia Heart Beat questions.  But that was some time ago. 
"Thank you for the e-mail," he wrote in response.   "I am not in Columbia now.  I am out of the States.  I will be in Columbia this coming Sunday.  See you then.  Morched Ben-Ayed."   
Among our questions:  "Are you aware that your tenant Judith M. Jennings has been convicted of assault and is scheduled to be arraigned for resisting arrest?  Did you screen either Robert Eugene Jennings or Jorge Apolonio Perez prior to renting?   Were you aware of the new pre-school arts program going in just one house away from the house you own?   Are you aware that several children live and play on the street?  Would you be concerned about renting to tenants with trespassing, DWI, and serious driving offenses, on a street populated with children?"

Finally, since the Ben-Ayed's rental is just two blocks from their alma mater, we asked that "as Columbia College alums, are you both aware that nearby tenant criminal activities negatively impact Columbia College?"

Mr. Ben-Ayed did not, in the end, answer any of these questions.   
Columbia Property Managers Against Crime summit tonight

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