COLUMBIA — It happened seven, maybe eight years ago, but for landlord Amir Ziv it was a lesson he'll never forget.
It was the first house he had put up for rent. Ziv said he rented it to an older man. Two months later, he got a phone call. A SWAT team had surrounded his house.
It turned out the man had been selling drugs, Ziv said. Ziv doesn't remember his name, but he does remember what he learned.
"I thought I was doing an old man a favor," he said. "I thought he was going to be more mellow, and he wasn't. It made me more intuitive and more aware. Just because someone's old and collecting Social Security doesn't mean anything."
Ziv said he's not alone; almost every landlord in Columbia has had a crime occur on his or her property at one point or another, he said.
"I think we all have stories; you just don't know. That's why it's so important to communicate among ourselves," Ziv said.
In early December, a group of landlords will begin that dialogue. The meeting, which is being called the "Columbia Landlords Against Crime Forum," will occur from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 3 at the YouZeum.
Mike Martin, another landlord, said this sort of meeting has been in the works for a while.
"I think what this is going to do is spark interest in more landlord involvement in reducing crime," Martin said. "I think if you were to take a survey of all the people getting busted for various crimes, I think about 95 percent are renters; about 95 percent have a prior felony or misdemeanor, some kind of criminal record. If landlords saw this and didn't rent to them, there wouldn't be as many problems. It's taken a long time to put that together."
The meeting comes at an interesting time. The city's new Office of
Neighborhood Services is scheduled to move into its new office
Jan. 4, but the staff that make up the office have been meeting weekly since October.
Increased efficiency in property code enforcement
is one of the goals of the new office, which combines current city
staff from Volunteer Programs, Public
Communications, the Office of Protective Inspections and Environmental
Health. Other goals have been less defined, but change is likely.
Bill Cantin, neighborhood response coordinator, said the office plans to review property maintenance codes and could recommend changes. That process, though, would take at least a year, he said.
Cantin said he's interested in attending the landlord summit. He said he would like to find a way to better engage landlords.
"I'd like for it to be more collaborative," Cantin said. "We will set up parameters of what we are able to assist with, but whatever we do we want to work with the neighborhood and landlord to find what is mutually beneficial."
A tentative meeting schedule includes discussions on a landlord's role in crime prevention and effective screening of tenants.
Ziv said he is interested in compiling a database of tenants who have
been frequently evicted or have trouble paying rent. Ziv said he plans
to mention this idea at the meeting.
"We run background checks and all that, but I'd like to create a Web site for Columbia where we could do one-stop shopping, where you could put in someone's name and find out if they have been evicted or owe someone else money," Ziv said. "Maybe we could even rate them as tenants and let other landlords know about the deadbeats so they do not get stuck with them, as well as let them know about good tenants."
Landlords say the meeting will focus on sharing knowledge. The tentative schedule also includes discussions of public housing programs and neighborhood dynamics, a term Martin said examines the impact appearance, history, associations, city hall and people have on a neighborhood's function.
"It should be interesting because we all have a lot in common," Ziv said. "We all have the same war stories and to share it, it just makes you realize that you're not alone and maybe there's some problems out there we can nip in the bud as landlords."
Michael Jones, who has owned rental property for two years, said he will attend.
"I will be taking notes. I feel like I do have a lot to learn yet in this business. I have learned a lot in two years, but I hope to learn a few tricks of the trade at the meeting," Jones said.