One duplex + 80 cop calls + one shooting = one year empty

September 20, 2017 GMT

A Rochester landlord won’t be able to rent out his Fourth Street Southeast duplex for at least a year after the property was the subject of 80 calls to the Rochester Police Department in 18 months, including an Aug. 15 shooting that sent a Rochester man to the hospital.

Shannon Johnson said he has been addressing concerns at 1120 Fourth St. SE and asked the Rochester City Council for more time.

“I’ve cleaned up everything on the outside and everything on the inside,” he told the Rochester City Council during a hearing regarding complaints, noting he’d also evicted tenants who were causing problems. His brother is still living in one unit.

Susan LeGare-Gulden, manager for housing inspector services, said Johnson has been given several chances to conform to city requirements, even though he had tenants living in the duplex with an expired rental certificate for more than a year.

However, LeGare-Gulden said problems went beyond failing to make needed repairs in a timely fashion to obtain a new rental certificate.

“He doesn’t know how to do background checks on tenants and keep crime out of his rental property,” she said. “That is evident by the disorderly use notices that were issued by the Rochester Police Department.”

Johnson received four notices since purchasing the property on March 10, 2016. The first was for an alleged controlled substance on the property, but the complaint was later dismissed by the city attorney. Two other notices were issued for a loud party or noise, and another was given for disorderly conduct.

Several neighbors also voiced concerns, noting the rental property had been a problem before Johnson bought it.

Randy Batzel, a neighborhood block captain, said the corner near St. Francis Catholic Church has been problematic for the neighborhood, citing a history of drug use and other issues.

“We’re sick of it,” he said. “We’d love to see the place torn down and make a cul de sac, because we’re sick of the problems.”

Another neighbor, Mike LaPlante, also called the house a chronic neighborhood problem.

“We’ve had problems with the current landlord and previous landlords,” he said.

Others in the community stood up to acknowledge the challenges of operating rental property and the need for units with lower rents.

“I’ve noticed with Mr. Johnson he’s tried to do what he can and has been frustrated and sabotaged,” Paul Sadler said. He added that tenants have damaged the property and blocked him from making repairs.

Johnson said he’s aware of his shortcomings and has tried to find a way to support his family with rental units.

“I realize this has cost everyone involved a lot of time and money, and it has cost me several thousand from having my unit vandalized terrible and several months of lost rent,” he said. “I made several mistakes, including not screening my tenants as good as I should have, which I apologize for.”

He said he wants to build relationships with the neighbors, but has found that difficult with other properties he has owned.

LeGare-Gulden said her suggestions for council action could address some of the concerns and potentially turn the property around. The proposal was to rescind Johnson’s ability to retain a rental license for two years, vacate the property and have Johnson retake public safety classes to learn to properly operate a rental property. He would also be required to make improvements before allowing the building to be rented in the future.

Council members voiced concern about extending the restrictions too long, which could lead Johnson to sell the property and put it into the hands of someone else who might face similar struggles.

“I’m not sure what two years will get us that one year wouldn’t,” council member Ed Hruska said, noting a shorter requirement would allow Johnson to maintain the property and change direction.

The council voted unanimously to keep the two-year restriction in place with LeGare-Gulden’s other recommendations, but council members said Johnson would be able to request a review in a year.

“If you stay there, your job is to fix it up and rebuild the relationships with the neighborhood,” council member Mark Bilderback told Johnson.