Property rights group known for protests, ‘crack tours’ reorganizes

A group of landlords who once shut down a Minneapolis City Council meeting with their protests and took local officials on &#8220crack tours” of the city are ready to get back into action.

Organizers of the group formerly known as the Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee held a meeting June 12 at the Washburn Community Library to gauge interest in reviving the organization, which fell apart late last year. For more than a decade, the group's members protested city policies that they say hold them responsible for the criminal behavior of tenants when police and courts aren't able to take them off the streets.

Their protests over a 1998 Council decision to revoke the rental license for a building in North Minneapolis known for drug dealing forced the meeting to shut down. And a number of judges and legislators took their &#8220crack tour” of the city's drug-dealing hotspots.

Bill McGaughey, who had been active in the group and organized the meeting to discuss reviving it, said some landlords are concerned that city policies and renewed efforts to combat crime will again turn landlords into the scapegoat.

&#8220We have a sense this is coming back,” he said.

About 30 people attended the meeting, most of them owners of rental properties in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They voted in favor of resuscitating the group and expanding its geographical focus to include St. Paul and the suburbs. After some discussion, they agreed to rename the organization the Metro Property Rights Action Committee.

A number of those at the meeting alleged that city officials condemn buildings and target owners of properties that have problems with drug dealing and crime rather than going after the criminals and tenants who are the problem.

&#8220I think that's wrong, because landlords can't baby-sit tenants,” said Don Hansen, who owns rental property in North Minneapolis and was involved in the group before it fell apart.

Hansen added that tenants also have rights to privacy that landlords must respect. And while he screens tenants, he said right now he has empty units and no rental applications.

&#8220It's hard to find decent renters,” Hansen said.

McGaughey said some landlords are concerned that a move by Minneapolis officials to get pickier about housing codes and combat crime using the &#8220broken windows” model will mean a greater crackdown on property owners rather than the criminals who create the problems. The model focuses on cracking down on small things like graffiti, littering, panhandling and petty drug dealing under the theory that a clean appearance will bring in business and drive out crime.

&#8220I don't object to tidy yards and cleaner property, but at the same time the city needs to work at basic law enforcement,” McGaughey said.

The landlord group had a local cable television show that aired the stories of local residents and property owners who had run-ins with city officials and took issues with property policies.

Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at [email protected] and 436-4373.