A Pittsburgh landlord recently was thrown in jail for six months because of his “nuisance” rental.
According to a news report, neighbors and police “suspected” the property was being used as a drug house. Police say they’ve been called to the house dozens of times over the past few years. Officers did find drug paraphernalia on at least one call, and have responded to drug overdoses in the area.
In response to complaints, a judge previously ordered the landlord to evict all of his tenants, pay a $10,000 fine to the city for the nuisance, and repair the house.
However, when the case was reviewed, the court found that the landlord had not fully complied with the order. Now, the landlord will serve a six month jail sentence for contempt of court — unless he complies with the order.
Meanwhile, police have boarded up the building, and city officials are considering demolishing the property, according to the report.
It is unclear in this case whether the tenants were charged with crimes, or if the complaints of neighbors — that tenants were awake and “active” at 5:00 am, or that tenants were “making money” at the property, would have been sufficient evidence to convict each of them of these alleged crimes.
A number of cities across the country have recently enacted similar “nuisance” laws requiring landlords to evict tenants for disruptive behavior or suspected criminal activity. Unfortunately, this can be a daunting task if there is no evidence of an individual tenant’s wrongdoing. Often, police do not charge individuals or issue tickets at the scene, choosing instead to pursue the landlord, who then may have to reconstruct the event and attempt to evict each of the tenants for cause. That places landlords in a no-win situation, especially when fines are being levied daily.
However, there are steps that landlords can take to avoid renting to nuisance tenants:
Be careful who you allow in the property; always screen each adult occupant, including a criminal background check.
Adopt a crime-free lease policy that tracks your local nuisance laws. Make sure you have the ability to evict a tenant who violates the policy, even if you can’t prove they violated the law. Local police may participate in landlord training programs that help reduce crime in the area.
Keep a close eye on the property by performing regular property inspections. If you suspect drugs or other dangerous activities, call the police rather than trying to solve the problem yourself.
Get to the know the neighboring property owners, or at the very least, make sure they have your phone number in case they see something suspicious going on at the rental. You don’t want to be the last to know.
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