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Cedar Rapids Landlords File Lawsuit

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS 2/ Fox 28)- Some Cedar Rapids landlords filed a lawsuit Friday morning stating they want to be treated fairly and they're ready to see some changes.

They say they're frustrated with a city ordinace passed in March 2013, in Cedar Rapids known as Chapter 29 that deals with the physical condition of a property and that landlords must maintain their property to the International Property Maintenance Code.

The IPMC permits cities to enforce a housing code only through registration and inspection of rental properties.

They said this code violates Chapters 364.1, 364.3(4) and 364.17 of the Code of Iowa.

The passage of Chapter 29 follows a prior attempt in 2010 when the Cedar Rapids City council tried to pass a restrictive housing code which required landlords to incorporate a Crime Free Lease Addendum into landlord/tenants lease agreements. The 2010 Housing Code was overturned and ruled unenforceable by Judge Nancy Baumgartner.

Davis said she believes that the 2013 Housing Code "repeats the overextension of the city's power under homerule and further violates the intent of Iowa code 364.17." 

The 2013 Housing Code requires landlords to attend a training course on renting properties, pay a city tax, obtain a permit and also perform a background check on tenants before they move in.

They say they already do background checks but object to the mandatory requirements of a background check, training and of course, taxes.

"The city simply cannot be a party to our contract by telling us that we must do a background check and it must include certain features," Cedar Rapids landlord Mari Davis said

Chapter 22A, a nuisance ordinance, deals with the behaviors of tenants and their guests.

The landlords say the tenants should be held accountable for their actions, not the owner of the property.

Jeff Niemeier owns 42 units in Cedar Rapids, including student apartments.

"The city is saying you can't have a contract with a private individual unless your authorized by the city," he said.

Landlords like Niemeier say the city is trying to be the middle man when it comes to a housing lease agreement.

"The tenant is the one responsible in terms of their lease and there're the ones that should be held accountable for what they do during that time," he added.

Some of the properties he owns have been deemed "nuisance properties" that means at some point, police were called to the property with a complaint about someone who lives there. In some cases, the individuals aren't charged, but owners like Niemeier are fined.

Landlords like him would like to see their tenants charged for the disruptive behavior which Niemeier said he states in his lease contract.

He says the city won't write citations to his tenants. He's hoping that'll change.

"You really don't know a tenant," Niemeier said. "It's like an employee I don't know. I don't know how good the tenant will be until the move in."

Niemeier uses an application and tells tenants that he'll do a background check.

The landlords said that if the training was optional, then they may consider taking the class but want they say makes them frustrated is that they are required to take it, even after taking it once.

"I think what they've done is to take a very restrictive position is the only way to manage crime in Cedar Rapids is to put it on the back of landlords," Davis said. "That's not the way we do it."

Both landlords say they want their tenants to feel safe and live in a good neighborhood but they don't need the city oversight.

CBS2 news reached out to The City of Cedar Rapids and they told us that they know about the lawsuit but could not comment about the lawsuit Friday.


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