What do landlords in Tuscon have in common with rental property owners in Newport Beach? Both live in fear of being marked with a Scarlet Letter.
Drawing on Tuscon’s practice of ‘red-flagging’ properties where noise ordinance violations are said to occur, Newport Beach City Council just passed a similar ordinance.
The original plan was for those tags to be a bright, fluorescent red, but in a last minute amendment, Newport’s city council chose a more demure black and white.
But the consequences for landlords still remain. If a tenant is involved in a gathering that police deem a public disturbance, the property is tagged for all to see–including potential new tenants, buyers and neighbors. The tag remains for 90 days, or until the landlord can show that the tenant is gone.
The new law, named The Loud and Unruly Gathering Ordinance, will likely require an amendment to a landlord’s existing lease in order to enforce a ‘one-strike and you are out’ eviction policy for public disturbances. Fines of up to $3,000, revocation of the rental license, and a lien on the property are additional consequences for landlords who do not resolve the problem, or have unruly tenants again in the future.
Yet, at a recent public hearing, police, council members and landlords did not appear to reach a consensus on what constitutes a public disturbance within the reach of the ordinance. A landlord expressed concern that the way the ordinance is worded, a loud dinner with 8 or more persons could trigger the offense. When one landlord asked whether police intend to tag private homes that host rowdy high school graduation parties– where kids are yelling or are out in the street, one officer present said he was prepared to do so.
But later, a second officer pointed out that the new ordinance requires behaviors like drunkenness, fights, urinating in public, or blocking traffic access. “You know what I’m talking about –the real, true parties, the bad parties. A high school graduation party is not a problem because that’s just kids enjoying themselves. In that case, the officers would offer assistance to neighbors whose cars were blocked or whatever was needed to keep people safe,” he said. This statement left at least one council member appearing perplexed as to how police plan to differentiate between that situation and something like a raucous Fourth of July party.
City officials who wrote the ordinance did go out of their way to protect innocent tenants, as well as landlords who take responsibility for their tenants and properties. Police have agreed to video-tape disturbances, and to run the ‘red-flag’ by a supervising officer first.
As a result, there are landlords who offer support for the measure, albeit lukewarm. One manager with more than 1,300 properties agreed with the spirit of the law, but felt it was unnecessary. “We already have measures in place.”
A city council member voiced concern that the landlords would only hear about a police complaint via a letter, after the tag was ordered to be posted. Police officers admitted that currently many disputes are resolved by a verbal warning to the tenant or the owner.
It appears the measure does not provide for warnings, except within the discretion of the individual police officer responding to a complaint. Even then, the decision may rest on how busy the officer is at the time.
Some landlords praised the city for taking a proactive approach to reducing crime, which benefits everyone in the community. The council did respond to many of the landlords’ suggestions, nixing the bright red, lowering the period of time for tagging from 180 days to 90 days, and reducing the proposed $8,000 fines.
One question still looms: will it work?
In Tuscon, the measure has drawn legal challenges. Some area students have expressed delight in getting tagged and feel the system makes it easier for them to find party houses.
In dissenting to the Newport ordinance, even with the more landlord-friendly provisions, one council member cited the fact that adjoining property owners will suffer the same consequences–a possible reduction in property value if another property is tagged, yet they will have no recourse to remedy the problem in a city where the average home price exceeds a million dollars. And that, he says, is simply unfair.
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