Apartment complex fined

NILES – The Royal Mall Apartments is the first complex to feel the sting of a new ordinance that allows the city to levy fines for excessive nuisance calls.

Police Chief Rob Hinton said the legislation gives his department “more teeth” in deterring multiple complaints originating from the same handful of property owners.

“A lot of people take pride in their communities and their neighborhoods,” Hinton said. “When there is a nuisance, it gives us another avenue to address it.”

The owner of the apartments – Vesta Properties – did not return calls for comment on Friday.

The ordinance, passed by council in March, put into place a system whereby management companies in charge of apartment complexes with 40 residential units or more would face a warning after 16 calls and fines after 28 calls.

The 29th call in a calendar year would result in a $250 abatement fine, the 30th, $500; the 31st $750; and the 32nd and every call after that an additional $1,000 each.

Since April, police have received more than 30 calls to the Royal Mall Apartments in Niles. Sophia Rintala, administrative assistant to the police chief, said management of the 168-unit apartment complex now owes $8,500 in fines.

“They’re now at $8,500 on four separate billings,” Rintala said.

Vesta Properties is in the process of appealing the fine. Those appeals are heard by the Nuisance Abatement Board, consisting of the safety service director, two citizens chosen by the mayor and two citizens chosen by council.

“They’re all due 30 days from the time it was issued,” Rintala said. “However, because this one is being appealed, it wouldn’t have to be paid until after that process has completed.”

Along with apartments, the fines also apply to single-family dwellings. The warning is applied after two calls to a home with the abatement starting on the third call.

Determining which calls fall under the ordinance and those that do not is a complicated process, officials said.

According to Captain Jaisan Holland, the law is written to prevent victim crimes from applying, such as domestic violence and assault.

“We don’t want victims afraid to call because they’ll be fined,” Holland said.

Due to this, a call must be thoroughly investigated before a decision is made whether or not it will constitute a “nuisance complaint” under the ordinance.

“A lot of the calls that apply are noise complaints,” Rintala said. “You do have a lot of menacing. Menacing can be a victim crime and that’s where I say it goes case by case.”

Rintala said she works three days a week, with much of her time devoted to handling the paperwork for the ordinance.

“It’s a big job,” Rintala said. “You can’t go out and fight crime, protect the community and keep track of this. It’s very involved. They brought me in to do that.”

According to Hinton, there was one other instance where an abatement was being issued, but the landlord evicted the tenant before the fine was handed out.

“There were a lot of the juvenile party calls to a residence on East Park Avenue where we had there tying up our resources on the midnight turn,” Hinton said. “The ordinance encourages property owners to address the situation and they did that.”

The benefit of the new ordinance to the community is substantial, Hinton said, which starts with not tying up police lines on calls that can be handled in house.

“We have had some landlords that have worked with us to solve the problems and issues from the numerous calls to their properties, to the point of evictions, educating the tenants to contact the management office if it is a multi-unit dwelling versus calling the police all the time,” Hinton said. “Loud music, for instance, is one you’d let the management handle instead of tying up the police.”

In addition, the ordinance encourages property owners to do their due diligence in investigating potential tenants.

“Do a little work up front so you don’t have the headache down the road,” Hinton said. “Then it’s going to cost money out of your own pockets for the eviction process or if you’re fined in this process.

“Do a little networking with other landlords and get a little history of where they lived before. Contact the former landlords and see what kind of tenant that person was,” he said.

anewman @tribtoday.com