Police want landlords to deal with problem tenants
EVERETT - When neighbors suspect a drug house on their block, it takes many steps to get rid of the tenants.
The Police Department, though, is using a relatively new legal tool to send a strong message to landlords to fix the problem. In a city where about half of the residences are rentals, enforcement efforts have shut down more than a dozen known drug locations in Everett in recent months.
The Police Department is focusing on residences where drug activity is an ongoing nuisance. The hope is to get landlords to evict problem tenants themselves.
The Police Department worked closely with the city’s legal department to create a strongly written form letter to send to problem landlords. The letter alerts landlords of drug activity at their property and possible punitive action if nothing is done about it.
“Our goal is not to take people’s houses away from them and board them up. The goal is to create a crime-free community and environment,” north precinct administrative Sgt. Bruce Bosman said.
The first letter was sent last June.
Bosman, whose prime jurisdiction is north of 41st Street, has sent a dozen of these letters. Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Goetz estimates the south precinct sent at least half a dozen letters.
It’s an issue being addressed citywide, Goetz said.
“Ever since I started using this process, probably I’ve sent out a dozen, 90 percent of landlords are very responsive,” Bosman said.
Most landlords are unaware of drug activity at their property, Bosman said. In almost all cases, the drug sellers are out as quickly as three to five days. Because of state laws on drug nuisances, the eviction process is quicker than normal state law.
The Police Department has only had to take two property owners to court. Those two instances involved homeowners in the 3100 block of Tulalip Avenue and the 2100 block of Wetmore Avenue, according to court records.
In one case, undercover officers made multiple heroin buys at the Wetmore Avenue location, according to court documents. The property owner indicated she was disinterested in remedying the problem, according to a filing by the city attorney’s office.
A Snohomish County Superior Court judge declared preliminary injunctions in both cases requiring the residents to vacate, but both cases are still pending.
The letters are sent to any location where ongoing drug issues are happening. Bosman sent one such letter to an unnamed motel.
“We’ll see if that’s effective,” Bosman said.
Neighbors often suspect drug houses in their neighborhood, but it takes more than a few phone calls to police to clear the issue. The Police Department must follow specific guidelines in state law, find the address of the landlord and make multiple controlled drug buys before it can send a letter.
Residents’ witness reports help clinch the closure of a drug house, Bosman said. Witness reports make the Police Department’s case much stronger if it goes to court.
“To say it’s appreciated by the neighborhood is an understatement,” Bosman said.
The Police Department can use the drug use nuisance law if a house has three or more calls to police concerning drugs in a 60-day period, deputy chief Dan Templeman said in November.
When Northwest Neighborhood residents in November spoke out at a City Council meeting about their suspicions of a drug house in the 1600 block of Hoyt Avenue, the drug nuisance threshold had not been met, Templeman said.
The landlord of that house told the Tribune at that time that he does not have the right to evict the tenants.
The Police Department each year trains rental owners on remedying drug activity. Department heads met with 30 landlords for a training session last summer, and made presentations to the Everett Area Apartment Manager’s Association Council.
“The bottom line is we’re utilizing the tools the Legislature has given us for improving the quality of life for citizens,” Goetz said. “We’re not going to do it just to get rid of somebody smoking marijuana in their home.”
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published Feb. 15, 2012