Janesville25.1°

New tactic targets landlords

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Marcia Nelesen
October 13, 2012

— Fourth Ward residents are trying a new tactic to keep their neighborhood safe: public scrutiny for a landlord whose tenants disrupt the peace.

The landlord, Billy Kesselring, said he sympathizes with the neighbors and is evicting the problem renters.

“I’m in complete agreement with the community group,” Kesselring said. “I apologize for allowing this family to stay there as long as I did. And, most certainly, the most recent events are unacceptable.”

He was referring to his tenants firing BB guns Sept. 19.

Some neighbors thought it was gunfire and feared for their safety, neighborhood activist Burdette Erickson said.

In May, Erickson and other residents took a stroll through their neighborhood with police and the media. Residents pointed to homes where tenants were causing problems. They promised to expose the landlords whose renting habits were making residents’ lives miserable.

“We will not remain silent any longer about what landlords and tenants do to us,” Erickson said at the time.

They made good on their promise Sept. 28 by sending a letter to the city council, asking members to address problems caused by Kesselring’s tenants.

‘Move these people out’

Police this year responded to the property at 315 W. Van Buren St. for disorderly conduct, loud music and large fires in the backyard, officer Rod Hirsch said. Hirsch works with the Fourth Ward neighborhood group and coordinates the city’s chronic nuisance ordinance.

Hirsch began working with Kesselring in July. Things calmed down until incidents in late August and then the shooting incident in September, he said.

The BB gun incident “kind of got the whole thing rolling again,” Hirsch agreed. “We had gotten the downstairs tenants evicted who were causing some of the problems.”

Kesselring later promised that the upstairs tenants would be out by Oct. 6, but they didn’t leave. He now has filed eviction papers, Kesselring said.

Evictions can take up to 30 days, Hirsch said.

Hirsch said Kesselring is approaching the point of having an “abatement” meeting with himself and Police Chief Dave Moore. The meeting would be the next step prescribed by the city’s chronic nuisance ordinance. The city could bill Kesselring for police services at the address and levy fines if he doesn’t comply with the agreement that results from the meeting,

The city will hold off on the meeting if Kesselring’s tenants are evicted, Hirsch said.

Hirsch said most landlords he deals with work to fix problems. Only six have reached the point of an abatement hearing, and none has had any more problems.

Most landlords “move these people out,” Kesselring said. “They don’t want to deal with it. The biggest problem is when they just move them to another place, and then it starts all over again.”

Hirsch is passionate about his commitment to folks living in inner city neighborhoods.

“I’ve gotten to know them over the years, and they’re good people,” he said.

Hirsch said neither he nor his wife have to worry about walking their dog at night where they live.

“These people shouldn’t have to, either,” he said. “That is my goal. They should be able to live was well as anyone else can.”

Landlord vows change

The city in recent years has poured millions of dollars in rehab money and police resources into the inner city neighborhoods.

“We’re making tons of progress,” Hirsch said.

Kesselring, who rents six properties that contain a total of 13 units, said he is frustrated by recent events, too.

“We’re all kind of on the same page,” he said. “I’m certainly looking forward to resolving the issues there.”

He said he had been trying to help the young family living in the Van Buren Street property get on their feet.

“Unfortunately, trouble just kept following this young couple,” Kesselring said. “Now, it’s time for them to move on. There’s just certain things that are not acceptable.”

“It’s not going to happen again,” Kesselring said. The neighborhood is “really turning around, and I really appreciate that.”

Kesselring said he would leave the Van Buren Street home vacant as he repairs the damage caused by tenants. He said he will paint the home in spring to complement the “nice, rich colors other neighbors have painted their homes,” he said.

He also said he will meet the neighbors.

“I owe that to them,” Kesselring said.

Moore said the tactic of holding landlords up to public scrutiny is a neighborhood decision.

He said the department would continue working closely with the residents and use the chronic nuisance ordinance as leverage.

“Typically, there are good things to come from citizens that protect and have pride in their neighborhoods,” he said.



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