Thursday, March 20, 2003

Covington rent law vote delayed

Some protested it targets blacks

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - City officials delayed a vote on a tough new "two strikes and you're out" renter law until April 1, after some Eastside residents complained the proposal unfairly targets the black community.

Members of Covington City Commission denied the allegations raised at Tuesday's meeting. They said the proposed legislation is meant to reduce criminal activity throughout the city, and is not aimed at one particular neighborhood or group.

City Solicitor Jay Fossett offered to meet with Eastside residents who have questions or concerns about the proposed ordinance modeled after a Louisville law adopted several years ago.

Under the proposed change to Covington's nuisance code, residents who commit more than one prostitution, drug, alcohol, or gambling offense within a year could find themselves forced to leave their apartments or homes.

"When you get two strikes, you're told to quit the criminal activity, and if you don't quit it, (the city) can go to court and ask them to do something about it," Fossett said.

Diane Simpson, who owns a home on Lynn Street, and Bennie Doggett, who lives on Scott Boulevard, asked city commissioners to delay voting on the matter until residents could meet with city officials to discuss it.

They echoed Mary Rice of East 13th Street, who told city commissioners: "We feel like, as black citizens on the Eastside, that we're being pushed out by this law. We feel that it's targeted at the black community."

Mayor Butch Callery responded: "I want to assure you that's not true. ...We have the same problems everywhere. This is just another tool that we'll be able to use to alleviate criminal activity and make Covington's neighborhoods better places to live."

Rice told city officials that she would be afraid to call police if her brother, who tends to drink, visited her and caused trouble. "If I called them only twice, then that's two strikes against me," Rice said.

Fossett said the proposed change "is not aimed at someone who gets drunk in their house."

"This is aimed at vacant properties where people are congregating and drinking," he said.

Mildred Rains, director of Covington's code enforcement department, said that city officials "are not targeting any one neighborhood."

Besides apartments and homes, the proposed change would apply to owners of commercial properties and vacant lots. Landlords who fail to evict criminal offenders could find their occupational licenses revoked, or the utilities shut off at the apartments where the offenses occurred.

"If (the landlord) starts eviction proceedings against the people who are causing the problem, then we stop it. We go away," Fossett said.

Nelson Ball of Wallace Avenue also asked what would happen if an uninvited visitor caused trouble at a property that he rents to an exemplary tenant.

"I have one (tenant) who's been divorced for several years," Ball said. "Every once in awhile, her husband gets drunk, comes around and raises all kinds of Cain. The police were there not long ago. If (her ex-husband) comes back again and causes trouble, I could be cited, and I don't think it's fair."

Fossett said the proposed change is not aimed at property owners or tenants who can show that a problem was out of their control.


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