The Problem Among Us: Absentee Landlords and Problem Tenants
by Dan Pavlovic Block Watch Captain
Rental houses in the neighborhoods along the Aurora corridor are an ongoing public safety problem. Recently the King County Sheriff and SWAT team raided a residence in Greenwood confiscating 25 grams of heroin and some amount of methamphetamine, arresting at least one man and taking a young boy into protective services. Neighbors heard loud booms from concussion grenades as a SWAT entered the apartment. All the neighbors came out their doors and then retreated as they were ordered by King County officers to get back into their houses. There weren’t as many people as usual in the raided house or there would have been more arrests, including the mother of the boy taken into protective custody.
Neighbors from around the area recognized the problems with this residence as soon as the current tenants moved in, beginning with quick in-and-out automobile visits at all hours, later finding condoms, tiny empty zip-lock drug packets, and recently syringes on the parking strip next to the house. A web camera was discovered in the apple tree on the side of the house, presumably surveying the street from inside. Before this tenants arrival the street had been clean and quiet for the last few years.
Neighbors recognized the suspicious signs because about three years back another tenant was in the same unit dealing drugs. The same items were found on neighborhood streets with the same traffic patterns and sketchy characters week after week. And like this time, a web camera was found in the garage pointing out towards the street. Neighbors recorded over 50 license plate numbers, passing this information on to the police. This time though an NCI unit (Neighborhood Corrections Initiative, partnership between the SPD and Department of Corrections) the tenants were turned out of this unit. It was a less dramatic confrontation than the one earlier this week, but guns were drawn.
What about the third time? Is this how it is for us – a revolving door of drug dealers hosted by this landlord? Is force or our responsibility to go to small claims court the only course?
Our Block Parties are a lot of fun; we enjoy getting to know each other, catching up and watching our kids play together. At our last Block Watch party we invited neighbors from the two streets next to ours as well and made it a bigger gathering; a neighbor from the street behind us told us it sounded like we had a good time at our house since he often heard and saw our kids and their friends jumping on our backyard trampoline. The happy squeals of children are welcome sounds to hear in the neighborhood. This last night instead we were all hearing the boom of concussion grenades and witnessed a military style raid – the sounds of war in Greenwood. I cannot say I am sorry to see these unwelcome neighbors go even in this manner; I respect our partnership with and work of the police in these matters.
Block Watch-Landlord agreement
But enough is enough! As a GAIN block watch captain (greenwood aurora involved neighbors) I would like to see the city attorney work with the neighborhoods in creating a workable Block Watch-Landlord agreement over neighborhood residential rentals in which the Block Watch can work directly with the landlord.
This can certainly create a win-win situation between absentee landlords and Greenwood’s established, successful and vigilant GAIN Block Watch area. The idea of an agreement between a landlord and Block Watch might look like this:
1. Block watch agrees to contact the landlord over problems with tenants before contacting SPD, King County Sheriffs or the DPD over code or public safety violations or suspicions, or taking any kind of group small claims action (this tactic is being used in Seattle). This can help neighborhood integrity and public safety, and help upkeep on landlord properties and a general feeling of good will in the neighborhood and city. Not to mention preempting the SWAT before they come in and do some serious damage to a landlord’s property.
2. Landlord agrees with Block Watch requests to terminate a lease with a tenant, based on detailed written neighborhood observations, 911 calls and reports; or meet with the City Attorney to arbitrate issues, as has been done independently in the past in GAIN watches.
3. Landlord agrees to good rental practices including criminal checks and supplying the Block Watch with the landlord’s contact information such as phone, address and email (many absentee landlords use a P.O. Box making them invisible).
This may not work in every neighborhood situation but it will motivate people to step up and meet their neighbors in a Block Watch setting. And that can be the start of hearing better sounds in the neighborhood.