Good Landlord, Bad Landlord

by Mel Gregerson and Bill McGaughey

We are two landlords who own rental property in Minneapolis. One of us, who owns a large apartment building in the 1800 block of Park Avenue, has been cited in recent news reports as a “responsible landlord”, in contrast with the owner of 1818 Park Avenue South, because the number of police calls to his building was relatively small. The other, who owns a smaller building on Glenwood Avenue, was branded an “irresponsible” landlord at a neighborhood rally held three years ago because a relatively large number of police calls was identified with his building on the police RECAPS sheets. (RECAPS sheets are a computer print-out of the 911 calls logged to an address. These are issued by the Minneapolis police.)

“Good” landlord and “bad” landlord, we are united in our opinion that tallying the number of police calls to a rental-property address is a self-serving exercise by the police bureaucracy while being unhelpful from the standpoint of fighting crime.

The police need all the help they can get from the public in identifying criminal activity as it occurs. This includes receiving 911 calls from residents of apartment buildings who spot crime in the buildings. Instead, the Minneapolis police have discouraged such calls because they use the number of calls to an address to indicate that the building is a “problem property” - i.e., it is crime-ridden. If there are too many calls, the owners could lose their buildings and the tenants would then be thrown out on the street (as the residents of 1818 Park will be at the end of this month.) Therefore, some building owners ask their tenants no to call the police if they witness crime in their buildings.

The calls listed on the RECAPS sheets may related to matters over which the landlord has little or no control. For instance, domestic-violence calls are included on the sheets. Should landlords reasonably be expected to police residents’ marital relationships or inquire about this when screening apartment applicants? Also, incidents are logged to a building if crime occurs in front of it on the street. For instance, if someone burglarizes a car parked on a public street in front of an apartment building, the offense will be charged to that address.

The police practice of publicizing the number of calls to a rental-property address, being a disincentive to placing such calls, serves only the interest of a police bureaucracy that does not wish to work very hard on the crime problem. The police wish to hold others, and not themselves, accountable for effective law enforcement. If it were otherwise, the police would also compile and disseminate statistics on such things as the average police response time to 911 calls or the rate of arrests in response to those calls.

Let’s do a paradigm shift and say that, if a large number of 911 calls come from residents of a particular apartment building, those residents and their landlord ought be commended because it shows a zealous attitude in fighting crime. The police should encourage people to call when they are suspicious that crime may be occurring in or near the buildings. The more calls, the more information the police will have in pinpointing incidents of crime.

Once the police have that information, they could put it to work by conducting plain-clothes sting operations or by installing video cameras in buildings that have experienced many crimes. They could use their new-found computer capabilities to identify the most promising locations for a more intense police presence. If the police were aggressively patrolling high-crime neighborhoods, they could respond more quickly to 911 calls and perhaps catch more criminals in the act.


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