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Council considers landlord ordinance

Rochester landlords who spoke out against a proposed city code-of-conduct ordinance establishing tougher penalties for rental housing infractions were told by the city council: You're not the target of this.

Who is?

Landlords like the one who owns a rental house near Wayne Norrie's home in southwest Rochester.

Norrie described how, for the last year and a half, he and neighbors have seen their lives overturned by a nearby tenant with multiple felony convictions and an apparent gang affiliation.

Residents have been threatened, disturbed by late-night visits to the rental house that appear to be drug deals, and had garbage strewn across their yards, Norrie said.


The landlord, whom Norrie did not name in the meeting, appears unconcerned by the problems, he said.

"We've tried to talk to him," Norrie said. "He says to us, 'What are you going to do about it?'"

"People don't come out of their houses, people don't leave their windows open at night," he said. "I haven't slept soundly all night long, and neither has my wife, in over a year."

Three neighbors have applied for gun permits, to protect themselves, Norrie said.

"I can guarantee you," he said to the landlords present, "you are not in the cross-hairs here."

The ordinance, drawn in response to past incidents including an armed rampage through Rochester this spring, in which a landlord participated, gives Rochester the legal "teeth" to tackle landlords such as the one on Norrie's block, council members said.

Though the council delayed a final vote on the ordinance, in order to modify parts of it to address some of the landlords' concerns, it is meant to empower the city to shut down chronically bad landlords by seizing their city-issued rental certificates for a wide variety of infractions, from tax delinquencies to excessive weeds and garbage to letting tenants become a menace to public safety.

"We are going to give you some leeway," council President Dennis Hanson said to the landlords present. "If you get caught with your grass a little too high, we're not going to take your property away. Trust me. We want you to stay in business."


Landlords fear, however, that such laws, once adopted and applied over a period of years or decades, could be used to harass them.

"I think you're trying to cover every eventuality and give yourselves power," said Katie Berg, a Rochester landlord and board member of the city's Multi-Housing Association. "I'm thinking 20 years down the road."

Berg cited building-code enforcement as an example of laws she considers to have run amok, at times.

"We all (landlords) have been asked to do unreasonable things and spend unreasonable money," she said. It's like, "You have a rule, and why not enforce it?"

The city can do a better job enforcing several existing laws to address serious problems, Berg said.

But Hanson said the city has used restraint in flexing its authority over the years.

In his dozen years on the city council, he said, "I think we've had half a dozen landlords before the council, maybe a dozen. Not a lot," he said. "We're not out to get landlords.

"With this stuff (the proposed ordinance) in there, we can go after those that don't comply," he said.


The goal is to shut down the "bad landlords," Hanson said.

"That'll give you more tenants, because the bad landlords are going to be gone," he said. "Being extreme on the ones who need it, protects you."

Though Norrie and a few others called for approving the ordinance without delay, at the end of a two-hour public hearing it was delayed until Aug. 2, when separate revisions — one crafted by City Attorney Terry Adkins in response to Wednesday's discussion, and one by the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association — will be put before the council for further discussion and a vote.

"I think once they (landlords) look at this, they're going to realize this is good stuff," said council member Ed Hruska. "I don't want to cram it down their throats."

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