VOL. 128 | NO. 141 | Monday, July 22, 2013
By Bill Dries
Managers of apartment complexes and other rental properties in Shelby County used to have a good grapevine or network when it came to trouble tenants, especially drug dealers, who had been evicted.
Tiffany Johnson, property manager of Autumn Ridge Apartments, tapes up a drug dealer eviction sign in the weight room of the complex. A new program seeks to rid multifamily properties of drug dealers.
(Daily News/Lance Murphey)
But that has changed as the business of managing larger apartment properties – and more of them – has become more difficult.
“That concept kind of faded away with just the work load and the day-to-day activities that we have to do in order to maintain properties,” said Debra McIntosh, executive manager for LEDIC Management Group LLC, who has experience as a property manager.
This month, the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office debuted on its website, www.scdag.com, a database of those evicted under its drug dealer eviction program. The registry is under the “preventing crime” tile with the heading “drug dealer eviction.”
Anyone can put in a name to see if that person turns up as someone evicted specifically for drug dealing. The office began the eviction program in 1997 as a way for citizens to report, through CrimeStoppers or other means, suspected drug dealing in rental properties.
The anonymous call triggers a police investigation, which can lead to criminal charges but which is geared toward finding evidence for a civil eviction.
“In the meantime, we begin the procedure for evicting those tenants,” said District Attorney General Amy Weirich, who talked about the process in General Sessions civil court if evidence of drug dealing is found. “We let the landlord do it if they want to. If the landlord doesn’t respond and take action in five days then we do it and the landlord has to pay us back for the cost.”
The registry catalogs those evictions with the idea that a manager of another community would run the name of a prospective tenant or someone they suspect of drug dealing in their property.
Debra McIntosh is executive manager of LEDIC Management Group, a charter member of the drug dealer eviction program.
(Daily News/Lance Murphey)
“There has never been any type of database where you could go in and look it up,” McIntosh said. “Everybody gets so routine in what they are doing on a daily basis. You don’t have the time or you don’t think to stop and say I just evicted somebody here a while back … and I was working in a different area of town.”
Weirich called the registry “the new piece to an old program that has worked very well to help strengthen a lot of our apartment complexes and rental communities.”
“A lot of times, people that are dealing drugs in an apartment complex, they have probably already got more people living in the apartment then they should,” she said. “They are probably late on their rent…. What we hope this tool helps the community do is keep property managers from ever leasing to those offenders.”
That goal is being pursued on several levels including an April launch of the effort to make the federally funded Safeways anti-crime program focused on apartment complexes an on going stand alone locally funded non profit organization. Safeways, in its new incarnation, oversees a certification process for apartment complexes who abide by a set of standards for training of property managers and specific anti-crime measures in the complexes.
LEDIC, ALCO Management and Makowsky Ringel Greenberg, three of the city’s biggest management companies, are participating with 15 properties among them as charter members of the effort.
Local law enforcement and criminal justice system leaders sought and got the initial Safeways grants after the Operation Safe Community coalition of the groups began looking at the city’s crime problem based on statistical hot spots. The hot spots in many cases were apartment complexes.
“It’s not just from drug activity,” Weirich said. “The apartment complex has kind of become the petri dish of everything. It’s where we see everything. If we can get a handle on the confines of an apartment complex, no matter how big or how small, that helps everybody.”
Without evidence of drug dealing to warrant an eviction, it is up to a property manager to determine if there should be an eviction. McIntosh said the strength of the registry is in abiding by common standards that include consideration for someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But she also said determining the difference between that and a career drug dealer who has set up shop isn’t that difficult.
“Most of the time, if they know the boyfriend or the spouse or whomever has the background, they are not going to come in and apply and put their name on the application,” she said. “We as residents and as apartment managers, we have to police our own properties.”
Weirich, a career prosecutor, agreed.
“Obviously somebody can search this database and see this person has been evicted from every apartment they’ve ever lived in. There’s nothing under the law that keeps them from leasing to them. But it’s weakening their apartment complex,” she said. “Typically, your drug dealers are not your drug addicts. This isn’t a situation where we’re trying to keep those who have been through rehab and go to daily AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings from every finding a place to live. This is geared toward keeping those that supply the drugs out of our neighborhoods.”