Despite a 2006 ordinance specifically targeted to reduce the number of nuisance calls Cincinnati Police (CPD) receive, an analysis of two years of the city's chronic nuisance records shows little change in the number of calls and CPD's burden with answering them.
The city solicitor's office estimates each call costs $100 in police resources. This is the fine amount the city can assess to a property owner for each nuisance call if they fail to evict problem renters or correct the problems leading to nuisance police calls.
CPD dealt with 55,000 nuisance calls each month in 2012 to about 100 addresses across the city. The calls range from noise ordinance violations to disorderly conduct to loitering complaints. In a few cases, officers responded to drug, menacing and assault complaints.
In 2006, the city passed a law that would require fines for properties that exceeded a particular amount of calls each month. If an address surpassed that amount and fails to fix the problem, the city could ask the court to shut the property down or force the owner to sell. City council did not fund the position for the chronic nuisance enforcement until 2012.
As of January, the city has 132 open chronic nuisance cases on its books — many of which have remained on the books since the city started keeping track in 2012. Police are still answering 45,000 nuisance calls each month. In the last two years, the nuisance calls alone have cost tax payers $10.7 million dollars.
‘ROTTING THE NEIGHBORHOODS AROUND US'
“They're basically disrespecting the community, which is why I got involved,” said Roselawn Community Council Trustee Ron Mosley, Sr. Mosley's made several trips to Cincinnati City Hall to discuss the problem of nuisance properties with city leaders.
Mosley lives in CPD District 4, which covers 10 neighborhoods: Mount Auburn, Corryville, Walnut Hills, Roselawn, Avondale, North Avondale, Paddock Hills, Bond Hill, Carthage and Hartwell. Of all the rental properties inside District 4, city nuisance records show the highest volume of nuisance calls come from an apartment complex at 3652 Reading Road.
The Reading Road complex, owned by PE Entowne Manor Realty, racked up 275 nuisance calls between 2013 and 2014, city records show. The calls, Mosley argued, have kept CPD officers from patrolling the rest of the district.
“They're putting the burden on the city,” said Mosley. “They're taking city services away from everyone else."
During a January Law and Public Safety Committee meeting, councilman Christopher Smitherman told Mosley the city is about to come down on nuisance landlords.
“They're either going to move into the zero tolerance for the behavior or we're going to change everything that's happening there," said Smitherman.
Mosley said landlords were relying on taxpayers to provide property management for nuisance properties, evidenced by the fact the police are responding to many of the properties on the list on a daily basis.
“They're actually throwing the responsibility, the care and the maintenance and the upkeep of their property, on the city of Cincinnati."
The Reading Road property isn't the only chronic nuisance problem property in Cincinnati. In January, city assistant solicitor Mark Manning presented a report to council showing 132 active chronic nuisance cases—132 separate addresses making the list of the city's most problematic properties.
THE SCENERY NEVER CHANGES AT THE TOP
An analysis of the city's chronic nuisance records shows many of the properties that top the chronic nuisance list today have remained there since the city started enforcing the ordinance in 2012. The top nuisance calls center on three different landlords: Downtown Property Management (DPM), Uptown Properties, LP and properties managed by ANS Management.
In 2013, DPM's properties topped the city's nuisance calls list with 1,096 calls across 20 separate apartment complexes. In 2014, DPM's calls dropped to 669 calls across 14 properties after the company sold off four major complexes in mid-2013.
DPM's Bahama Terrace apartment complex and 4510 Colerain Avenue complex topped the list of all nuisance calls in District 5 between 2013 and 2014 with 528 calls to those two locations.
The highest numbers of nuisance calls to one single address between 2013 and 2014 came from Gateway Plaza, a large apartment tower at 400 West Ninth Street. The tower sits just off the back of city hall. The towers racked up 502 calls between 2013 and 2014, according to city council records.
Three CPD officers were tied up at a Gateway Plaza call on Jan. 23 from a woman who lives at the complex, complaining her boyfriend broke her phone.
“My girlfriend called them down here over a $40 cell phone,” Darius Everage said after police escorted him from the building.
Everage admitted the call was not a good use of police resources.
“They was asking her, 'What'd he (Everage) do?' She didn't even want to say it because she knew it was petty,” Everage said. “Useless phone call."
Everage said he could tell CPD had grown tired of answering calls like this.
“I'm pretty sure they're getting aggravated. They was aggravated with her. They seen it was just--it wasn't no crime being committed."
ANS Management performs property management for three of the highest call volume properties across the city: 3652 Reading Road, 2000 Westwood Northern Boulevard and 1900 Westwood Northern Boulevard. Between 2013 and 2014, those properties were responsible for 815 nuisance calls to CPD.
CITY SLOW TO FINE NUISANCE LANDLORDS
A review of the city's fine accounting shows the city has fined the landlords at the top of the chronic nuisance list few times. On average, the number of nuisance properties on the city's list averages 110 each month. Of those, the city issued 66 fines since Jan.1, 2013 to 26 different property owners, according to the city's fine record.
The city solicitor's office records show 28 unpaid fines totaling $3,500 and 25 paid fines totaling $4,300. The city fined DPM 12 times between 2013 and 2014, but the company was able to settle their fines with the city and paid $200 to settle their chronic nuisance cases.
The city contends there are several legal hurdles before a landlord is fined. The ordinance allows fines after a certain number of nuisance calls, but landlords are allowed to “abate” the problem before the city issues fines. That process can often take more than 30 days, keeping nuisance properties on the city's chronic nuisance list for months without remedy.
"If I've got 200 and some nuisance calls or runs to my property and I'm getting fined every time for it. I'm going to start screening people a lot better," Mosley said. “Take responsibility for what you're doing to our city."
Despite the low numbers of fines, the ordinance has allowed the city to shut down and force the sale of some problem properties. In 2014, the city took 29 nuisance actions to court and got 16 properties shut down and another four properties were sold.
In 2013, the court closed the Sycamore Hotel at 7759 Reading Road in Roselawn. The hotel racked up 500 police calls a year, taking the entire block of 7700 Reading Road off the city's “violent street segment” list.
The properties where the city was successful in closing and forcing sales in 2014:
NUISANCE LANDLORDS PROMISE CHANGE
We reached out to four of the top nuisance landlords during this investigation. Those include: DPM, ANS Management, Uptown Community Partners, and the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Three of the four agreed to interviews for this report; the only landlord who did not respond to phone calls and personal visits was Uptown Community Partners, who own the high-rise apartment complex at 400 W. Ninth Street behind city hall. We left phone messages and an in-person message for Lane Hurst, the man in charge of the complex. Hurst did not return our calls.
ANS Management manager Robert Griffin admitted the nuisance calls from three of his properties had gotten his company's attention.
“I see it as a place for room for improvement,” Griffin said.
Griffin's firm manages 3652 Reading Road, 2000 and 1990 Westwood Northern Boulevard. All three combined for 815 nuisance calls between 2013 and 2014.
Griffin said he's installed cameras at his complexes, as well as, installed secured access and banned loitering outside his properties. His company took over property management of the three properties in 2013 after Downtown Property Management sold them.
Griffin hopes city hall will remain patient as he works on the renters creating the nuisance calls, “We inherited this situation when we purchased the properties,” Griffin said. “These properties, like many others across Cincinnati, didn't get in the shape they're in overnight. This took decades of time and we're now working to correct it."
Despite Griffin's company's efforts, the city is running out of patience as the calls continue and taxpayers continue footing the bill.
“Where we stand today is basically where it was back in May of last year when these new owners took control,” assistant city solicitor Mark Manning told council on Jan. 5.
"It's number one and that's what we've been striving for,” said Hari Ramineni, who is in charge of day-to-day operations for DPM, which also runs Bahama Terrace apartments.
Ramineni's complexes continue to hold spots at the top of the city's chronic nuisance calls, spots city records show the company's held for two straight years.
Ramieni said he feels some personal responsibility for the amount of taxpayer resources spent on nuisance calls to his properties. “And, we also pay real estate tax and it's millions and we do pay for city services,” he said.
Eviction is a tool Ramineni said his company's using when they have to.
“They're not staying there. We'll throw them out.”
The Raminenis also pay off-duty CPD officers to patrol Bahama Terrace. The complex on the city's West side racked up 443 calls between 2013 and 2014, the most of any other address in District 5. Ramineni said he pays the officers directly, estimating his company pays out a “couple hundred thousand” each year.
Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), a Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded public housing agency, had the most nuisance calls of any other landlord, collectively. CMHA-owned properties garnered 1,400 calls between 2013 and 2014 across 30 separate properties.
CMHA spokesperson Lesley Wardlow said she doesn't "think it's possible at all" to bring the chronic nuisance calls at CMHA down to zero.
City records show CMHA was fined seven times in 2014, totaling $1,000. CMHA paid $200 in early 2014 but records show the housing authority has unpaid fines totaling $800—fines that haven't been paid since August 2014.
"Because of a miscommunication, we have received those fines,” Wardlow explained. “We have 5,300 units. We are the largest landlord in the city and when it's something we need to pay, we'll pay it. Right now, we're investigating,” Wardlow said.
CITY LEADERS PLAN CRACKDOWN
Since early last year, the Cincinnati City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee's called several landlords before council to explain why their properties continue causing problems for police and taxpayers. In January, the committee asked Dharma Ramineni, who is the registered agent for DPM, to come before council to explain what he's done to fix nuisance calls from a West McMicken Avenue property his company owns.
Simpson said the time has come for Cincinnati's landlords to get a handle on this problem.
"I'm all for giving a property owner the opportunity to cure. But you don't need 6, 8 months to cure a problem,” Simpson said. “If you know who the person is, then handle it. And that person should not be allowed to change living conditions for everybody in the building and surrounding area.”
In 2006, city council passed the original ordinance that targeted landlords who owned property with high numbers of nuisance calls. The majority of calls come from renters who see or hear potential crimes happening at their apartment complexes.
City council never funded the enforcement arm of the ordinance until 2012. That's when the city hired an assistant solicitor to track and enforce the ordinance. The ordinance gave the city the power to fine problem landlords who failed to get rid of problem-makers that led to calls to CPD.
"I think we need to look and see if there's more that we can do. I think the ordinance is the best option we have today and we have to continue to enforce it,” Simpson said.
CRANLEY: ‘I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER'
In his State of the City address in September, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) promised change with the city's chronic nuisance properties.
“In too many important ways, the city's policies over the last several years have failed our neighborhoods in the very areas that make the biggest difference: safety, basic service delivery and issues involving quality of life,” Cranley said. “We will be proposing dramatic new fines and dedicated resources to address this problem."
That was four months ago. Cranley has not publicly announced specific plans, but said he plans to lay out his plan in March.
“Candidly, we haven't put enough resources into it in terms of prosecution,” Cranley said.
The mayor said he plans to ask for a dedicated housing court to have landlords go before one judge to cut out the “second chances” different judges have given landlords with multiple chronic nuisance violations. Cranley plans to ask council to fund a second prosecutor to assist Mark Manning, the lone prosecutor in the chronic nuisance enforcement office.
The mayor admitted the current ordinance isn't enough to fix the problems.
"What this is demonstrating is we have significant room for improvement on the law itself. We need to re-tool the law and be more effective,” Cranley said.
The ordinance Cranley voted to approve in 2006 was amended in 2013 after DPM sued the city, claiming the ordinance was unconstitutional. DPM and the city settled in mediation, with the city paying DPM's $92,500 legal fees and increased the number of nuisance calls for landlords with large complexes. The agreement also prevented the city from including calls from DPM in the nuisance call database.
Cranley admitted he thinks the city went soft on chronic nuisance owners.
“I think that was a mistake and I'd like to fix it,” Cranley said.
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