Tenant evictions occuring before third strike

By Lark Lewis

The police department has handled 319 cases related to the city’s three strikes housing rule since February.

In January, City Council approved a ordinance that added regulations and licensing requirements to rental property owners and tenants. Since Feb. 7, 14 percent of the police department’s 319 cases have gone to eviction before the third strike is reached. There has not been a case of eviction after reaching a third strike.

“Even of those 45 cases that have gone to eviction, the properties weren’t even on their third strike,” said Carl Leoni, Crime Free Housing and Inspection coordinator. “Most of them, the landlords had been having trouble with [residents] and this was the last straw.”

Each day, Leoni checks the police reports from the night before to check arrests of local tenants. He calls landlords and follows up with a letter that tells them they need to take action.

“We don’t tell the landlord what to do — it’s a business decision they have to make — but the city can fine landlords after the third strike,” Leoni said.

Because it is only the first year of the program, it’s hard to see whether or not it has deterred crime in residential properties, Leoni said.

“This will be [the] baseline to see what happens next year,” Leoni said.

In reference to crime free housing numbers from other communities, DeKalb’s crime rate is much higher in comparison than those communities that have been using a system similar to DeKalb’s for some years, Leoni said.

The ordinance gives responsibility to landlords because if action isn’t taken they will be fined.

“This is a behavior-based program; it sends a strong message to people who are going to commit crimes in residential places that they could be evicted for it,” said DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery.

When City Council first proposed the ordinance, some aldermen wanted to see changes made before the final version was passed.

“It needed a lot of work all the way through, but I was on board once we passed the final ordinance,” said first ward alderman David Jacobson.

Jacobson is looking forward to the first actual case of eviction due to the property hitting its third strike because it will show whether or not the ordinance is effective, Jacobson said.

“I think it’s one of those pieces of legislation that you need to monitor to see if it’s working correctly,” Jacobson said. “Thus far the communication process with the landlords is working.”