Landlords Sue City Over ‘Crime-Free’ Ordinance

landlord helpA group of around 150 landlords has filed a lawsuit against officials in Cedar Rapids over the city’s promotion of a “crime-free” lease addendum allowing landlords to evict tenants who engage in criminal activities near a rental property.

The measure, in the form of a city ordinance, went into effect last summer.

The lease addendum prepared by the city prohibits a tenant from “any act intended to facilitate criminal activity regardless of whether the individual engaging in such activity is a member of the household, or a guest (any criminal act as defined in the criminal sections of the U.S. Code, Code of Iowa statutes and the Code of Cedar Rapids ordinances).” It expressly prohibits illegal weapons, drug activity and prostitution, and extends a 1,000 foot ‘crime-free’ barrier around the rental property. Tenants are advised that a single infraction is good cause for a landlord to evict.

The lease addendum makes it easier for a landlord to evict by providing that “unless otherwise provided by law, proof of violation shall not require a criminal conviction, but shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Under the city’s ordinance, landlords are required to include the crime-free lease addendum to their lease, and enforce it.

The addendum mimics the International Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, which has proven highly successful in reducing criminal activities surrounding apartment buildings.  However, the CFMHP involves training of landlords by local police, and a crime risk assessment is performed on the individual rental property. Neither training nor crime risk inspections are provided for in the Cedar Rapids ordinance.

The landlords in this case contend that implementing a crime-free program via a municipal ordinance violates Iowa’s state constitution. They say the city is infringing on the private contract that exists between a landlord and a tenant, and are particularly concerned about the requirement they must evict a tenant who is accused of committing a crime.

Their attorney has indicated that the measure is too vague, and the penalties — including revocation of the rental license, are too strict.

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