King County takes a bite out of drug crimes with 'Safer Neighborhoods Ordinance'

King County now requires landlords in unincorporated areas to address drug crimes on their properties head-on instead of turning a blind eye.

The Metropolitan King County Council passed an ordinance July 28 aimed at providing relief to residents living in unincorporated King County near properties where drug crimes are occurring.

The law is based on open communication between property owners and the King County Sheriff’s Office. It relies on establishing a list of rental properties with tenants that are a cause for concern.

The ordinance, called “Safer Neighborhoods Ordinance” and sponsored by council member Reagan Dunn, requires landlords to take active steps to eliminate crime on their properties.

Existing detective teams with the sheriff’s office will identify properties deputies frequently visit or receive complaints about. Class A and B felonies and drug and sex offenses, among other crimes, will be tracked at these locations. Each time a serious crime takes place, the sheriff’s office will notify the property owner by letter.

Once three notifications have been issued within a six-month time frame, the owner of the property will be required to take action, such as assisting the sheriff’s office in decreasing the crime, taking a class to learn what to look for to identify possible criminal activity — or evicting the tenant.

“(The landlord) doesn’t have to go down and confront them, but it means the landlord can’t just look the other way,” said Sgt. John Urquhart, King County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

If an eviction process is launched, the letters will help convince a judge that the action is necessary, a spokesman for Dunn said. If no action is taken, the owner could face fines up to $125 per crime occurred on the property.

Deputies will not notify tenants that their landlord has been told of the criminal activity taking place, Urquhart said. If landlords fear for their safety and are reluctant to take action against their tenants, they may seek assistance from the sheriff’s office, he said.

The ordinance means a landlord must do something about the crime, not ignore it, Urquhart said.

The legislation was introduced, in part, after dozens of calls were made to the sheriff’s office regarding a neighborhood methamphetamine house in unincorporated King County, just outside Renton. The owner of the rental home was unwilling to evict its tenants and neighbors were forced to live with the crime for more than one year.

Neighbors rallied against the presence of the drug house. They took license plate numbers of more than 242 visiting vehicles during a 13-month period, according to a July 26 Metropolitan King County Council press release. Sheriff’s office personnel visited the same property 37 times over the same time period, Urquhart said. The neighbors’ actions eventually assisted deputies in making drug arrests and confiscating firearms.

In this case, the landlord was aware of the suspected criminal activities. But not every landlord is aware of the actions his or her tenants are taking.

“In a perfect world, owners would always know about crime taking place on their property, but that isn’t always the case,” Dunn said in the press release. “This legislation will go a long way towards (sic) strengthening cooperation between property owners, tenants, and the county to ensure safer neighborhoods for law-abiding citizens.”

The measure will not necessarily decrease drug crimes, but it will aide citizens living in a neighborhood where the crime is apparent, Urquhart said.

“The primary goal is to provide relief to the neighborhoods quicker,” he said. “If we can get (criminals) to move on, that gets them out of the neighborhood.”

Check it out:

The Safer Neighborhoods Ordinance is not expected to suffer from the King County Sheriff’s Office $7.5 million 2009 budget cut, Sgt. John Urquhart said. The detective teams that will track the drug crimes and notify landlords are expected to remain in place through 2009, he said.

In June, the sheriff’s office announced that because of the budget cut, beginning next year, it will no longer have the resources to investigate large-scale drug operations, fraud, Internet, identity theft, “cold case” and property crimes under $10,000.

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