Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fort Wayne's drug house law

Here's a pop quiz for Fort Wayne landlords: Which of the following are you not allowed to lease a house or apartment to?
A. A convicted murderer.
B. A convicted child molester.
C. A suspected drug user who has not even been arrested or charged with a crime yet.

To be clear, Section 130.06 of City Code prohibits property owners from knowingly allowing gambling, prostitution, or illegal drug crimes to take place on their property. I would think that if a landlord knew that a tenant was selling drugs, he would notify the police and file for eviction, or he would insist on a share of the profits. People who run criminal enterprises go to great lengths to conceal their operations from law-abiding citizens.

So how exactly is a landlord supposed to know if a tenant is a drug dealer? Here's what the law says:
Upon completion of investigation by the Police Department revealing that such suspected illegal activity is taking place at a particular premises, the Police Department may send a Notice of Investigation to the owner of the real estate and a copy to the tenant/occupant whose premise is the subject of the investigation, by certified mail, return receipt requested, informing the owner that the investigation revealed suspected illegal activity and the fact that there is an on-going investigation. The Notice of Investigation shall inform the owner that it is a violation of the Fort Wayne Code for the owner of real estate to knowingly permit its real estate to be used as a site for any use or sale of illicit narcotics or controlled dangerous substances, gambling or prostitution. The Notice of Investigation shall also state that the city may initiate enforcement proceedings against the owner of the real estate if the suspected illegal activity does not cease. Finally, the Notice of Investigation shall advise that it is a defense to a proceeding to enforce this section if the owner of real estate institutes and completes eviction proceedings in compliance with division (F) of this section against the person suspected of engaging in the criminal conduct giving rise to the Notice of Investigation.

Got all that? What it means is that if the police thinks that a tenant is a drug dealer, they can pretty much require his landlord to evict him.

This law hasn't been enforced recently, but the city plans to change that. First, let me stress that my opinion of police officers is much higher than that of drug dealers. But I have three questions.
1. If the police think that a guy is selling drugs, why not simply arrest him instead of sending a certified letter to his landlord?
2. If a landlord did know all along that drugs were being sold at his house, why not simply charge him as an accessory and seize the house?
3. Mistakes do happen. If a man is found innocent, shouldn't he be allowed to go back to the home he had when he was arrested?

There are many anti-drug laws on the books, most of them harsher than Section 130.06. The reason why I am bringing this one up is because I think this law has the highest immediate potential for causing innocent people who pay their bills on time to be thrown in the street.

3 comments:

Phil Marx said...

Robert,

For the first ten years I lived in my neighborhood, there was a house on my street that ran a major narcotics operation. When I called FWPD about it, they (Joe Musi, actually) told me they knew what went on there, but that they were to busy to do anything about it. Well, he also told me they were afraid to do anything because “all the blacks would complain.”

There’s another house a block away from mine where much of the drama in my neighborhood has emanated from for at least the past two decades. The landlord of this house complained to the FWPD (Deputy Chief Nancy Becker/Chambers, actually) a few years ago about all the drug activity in the area. FWPD responded by telling him that the problem was coming from his own house, and he would have to step up if he wanted things to change. Instead, he stepped back, so the police continued to let the tenants (and their drug activities) remain in place.

All I can say about this ordinance is that it must be used very selectively. I suspect that it was only put in place so that if a problem occurred in neighborhoods where Chief York or other VIP’s lived they would have some grounds for pressuring the landlords to clean up the house.

By the way, the horrendously violent drug activities in my neighborhood appear (at this time) to finally be a thing of the past. The first house mentioned above was demolished by the city about two years ago. And the second house was raided by FWPD about six months ago and (I believe) the tenants were then evicted. I wonder if the landlord is going to try and sue them for the broken door.

That’s my story. Now, as to your questions:

1) Suppose a teacher suspects a student of having a drug, alcohol, or other problem. The teacher can’t just enter the student’s room and snoop around for evidence. But the parents can, and they might if the teacher notifies them of the suspicious behavior. Landlords have all sorts of legitimate reasons for entering the houses they rent out. Personally, I think it’s a good idea that the police notify them of their suspicions so the landlord knows to be a bit more alert when inside the house.

2) I suspect that proving the landlord did know about the activities is quite difficult to do. But demonstrating that there was enough evidence that a reasonable person in his circumstances should have realized what was going on is probably a lot more attainable goal. I don’t know, but I suspect that this might help to limit the department’s liability for damages while raiding the house.

3) Absolutely, and the police (or anyone else involved) should pay some penalty for their mistake. The hiatus for this program began over a case where the tenant herself was not selling drugs. Her boyfriend was. And after she threw him out, the police continued to press the landlord to evict her. I don’t know all the facts of the case, but from what has been presented it sounds to me that the police were being overzealous.

DAVID C "ROACH" said...

A brief History of this ordinance. A friend of Mine- tom Ostrognai, was in the landlord business. He happened across the model ordinance he found in south bend city code, .
As all aspiring politicians want to have a feather in their cap, saying the cleaned up crime in their city , ( among other motivations);
He made getting this ordinance codified into FTW city code.
Tom was relentless in pestering city council to enact this bill, but finally after a year or so, and the city council figuring out he wasnt goig away, or giving up, and kept turinig up the heat, they finally caved, and enacted this 'drug den bill". the 2 main adversarys were rebecca Ravine, and Archie Lunsey, along with cletus Edmonds, and the JG- evan David, and Larry Hayes.
And what came next? voila! rAVINE AND lUNSEY CAMPAIGNED FOR RE-ELECTION ABOUT HOW they PASSED THIS ORDINANCE INTO LAW, AND HOW MANY CRUG HOUSES WERE CLOSED, and oh how wonderful this bill was, and what a useful tool it was for the FWPD.
tom who? see..
So guess waht ? I used the illegal gambling clause in that same bill to harangue, tirade, harass, whatever- with the same terminator - like zeal, to get the cops to enforce the laws against illegal cherrymasters/ and illegal sports betting/gambling(MARCH MADNESS/ncaa BETTING)
And guess what? where are all the cherrymasters? I ran in 1995 for city council at large on this platform- either change or enforce the laws, but to be able to say "I cleaned up the illegal racketeering in fort wayne- including tom henrys illegal slot machines.
BTw- while Tom Henry was a 3rd district city councilman, he operated cherrymasters, as did the other henry family bar owners; and Tom henry instigated the repeal of the amusement device ordinance, which implicated mayors, and vice cops for illegally issuing licenses for illegal cherrymasters.

confused?
So a few years back, there was "helter-skelter in tamarack"- 2 women, and a fetus killed in my neighborhood, which isnow inthe fwpd cold case file- "oh- its a drug related triple homicide". so? murder is murder, and you shouldnt be able to just get away with it? kinda makes a mockery of law enforcement/criminal justice.
I empathize totally with Mr Marx, and his complaints about the FWPD. they are wholly justified, and are a travesty of justice.
You know there are nearly 6900 outstanding felony/fugitive warrants presently active in allen county- many in the FWPD's bailiwick, yet they choose to go after stoners, social drinkers, speeders, skateboard scofflaws, and other micky mouse misdemeanors, instead of getting serious about keeping this city safe.
Speaking of drug den ordinance- you heard about the recent escort service/massage parlor prostitution arrests? dont the vice cops have anything better to do than get massages, then bust the poor girl who st got them all worked up, and rubbed down?
what of the lists of male customers- the johns - from all these escort service arrests? the women go to jail, and the men just get off?
wheres the justice in that? Yet isnt marriage a form of prostitution, after all when you thing about it? women throw themselves at the likes of charlie sheen, or drinks and dinner, and a roll in the hay?
And Matt mcchesney- marijuana kingpin- gets more prison time than al Capone? or rudolph hess, or Albert Speer? ( hess and speer were notorious nazis)
27 years? for trafficking marijuana to consenting adults?
I wonder how many pounds of cocaine are trafficked through sycamore hills, cherry hill, pine valley, and how many doctors, lawyers, officers of the courts, upstanding so- called repsectable local businessmen could pass a cocaine/hair follicle drug test?
Legalize drugs, remove the profit motive/ the greed factor, and watch the violence/gang acivity dissapate.
ohh- it will never happen, because too many lawyers, and lawyer types make too much money off the court system welfare.

Robert Enders said...

Phil, as I point out earlier, this law has not been enforced or applied much recently. Police do have a broad amount of discretion when they handle drug cases. Here's my response to your answers.
1). I don't have a problem with police notifying landlords of potential illegal activity. However, under this law, the landlord can be fined unless he files for eviction. So if you are paying your rent on time and keeping the place clean, yet your landlord has filed for eviction, then you know that you are being investigated.
2). I should have pointed out that as far as this ordinance is concerned, the landlord gets a certified letter from the FWPD. Once he gets that letter, it's hard for him to claim that he did not know about any illegal activity.
3). Judge Scheibenberger will the one deciding which houses are drug houses from now on. It's impossible to sue a judge for anything he does as a judge.