By Joe Bachman
The great chronic nuisance ordinance debate is finally over — for now.
After city council members sent back the proposed ordinance two times for revision since May of 2016, Finance and Property Committee members voted for a long-discussed compromise and approval for a chronic nuisance ordinance in Wisconsin Rapids. The ordinance will hold landlords and property owners responsible for repeat troublesome properties that according to the city, drive down property value, create unnecessary tax burdens, and contribute to a general decay of the affected area.
According to statue 25.36 of the proposed Municipal Code:
“…certain premises within the city require and receive a disproportionate amount of Police Department services and Community Development Department inspection and zoning services, place an undue and inappropriate burden on City taxpayers, and constitute public nuisances. Nuisance activity contributes to the general decay of an affected neighborhood and negatively impacts law- abiding residents in these neighborhoods, as well as the economic values of all properties in the vicinity of this activity.”
However, not all property owners are on board, as more than a dozen concerned landlords filled into city hall last night to voice their concern, primarily in the area of fears over getting fined for bad tenants.
“This ordinance seems to be written to hold the victims responsible for the crimes pitted against them,” said landlord Kathy Wirtz. “Now someone wants to hold me accountable for the bad behavior of the tenants that destroyed that property. This needs to be a chronic nuisance person ordinance.”
A chronic nuisance area is defined as any property with nuisance activity occurring more than three times during a 120 day period resulting in law enforcement action, or just one occurrence of the manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance. A chronic nuisance abatement plan will be required for a property that has been filed under this category.
Property owners will then work with law enforcement to correct the nuisance. Failure to do so will result in fines adjacent to administrative costs for response of law enforcement and staff. A property owner will be notified after the second nuisance activity for a property has been defined by law enforcement.
What is defined as a nuisance activity?
A nuisance activity is defined as illegal behaviors including criminal damage, disorderly conduct, harassment, burglary, noise complaints, electrical and fire safety violations, and various other illegal acts.
The nuisance activity will not apply to cases of sexual assault, stalking, or domestic abuse, which require immediate law enforcement assistance. This also does not apply if the tenant is the victim of any crime.
“This is to address excessive time and dollars that are spent dealing with the same properties over and over,” said Interim Police Chief Randy Jahns. “We’re looking for compliance on this level — we don’t want your money, we don’t want it to go further; we want to take care of the problem.”
According to Jahns, there are chronic nuisance ordinances in place in Stevens Point, Wausau, Green Bay, Madison, and many other Wisconsin cities that have been very successful.
“We’ve got to do something,” said Alderperson Terry Dolan “There are cities upon cities that have ordinances in their state.”
The ordinance will seek final approval at next week’s common council meeting.