New countywide landlord law helps fight druggies

Recently, you may have heard about two of my favorite constituents, Tom and Florence Pruitt. Florence has become infamous around these parts for her remarks that drug dealers “moved across the street from the wrong grandma.” These words capped off a very successful press event where I, along with the Pruitts and Sheriff Sue Rahr, announced new legislation targeting drug homes in unincorporated King County.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, July 22, 2008 5:53pm
  • Opinion

Recently, you may have heard about two of my favorite constituents, Tom and Florence Pruitt. Florence has become infamous around these parts for her remarks that drug dealers “moved across the street from the wrong grandma.” These words capped off a very successful press event where I, along with the Pruitts and Sheriff Sue Rahr, announced new legislation targeting drug homes in unincorporated King County.

Tom and Florence endured the stress and terror of living across the street from a major methamphetamine operation for 13 months. During the time that the meth house was in operation, Sheriff Department officers visited the property on at least 37 occasions. They made undercover buys and had the house under surveillance.

The Pruitts helped. They stayed up all hours of the night to record over 240 license plates of cars visiting the property and maintained records of suspect descriptions. They even pleaded with the landlord of these tenants to do something about it. This proved to be futile, as the landlord was indifferent to the suffering of the neighborhood. In the end, the evidence collected by the Sheriff Department and the Pruitts was not enough to satisfy the justice system.

The Pruitts’ ordeal was terrible, but not uncommon. There are dozens of suspected drug houses in unincorporated King County that the Sheriff Department would love to shut down. However, limited resources and the long process of evidence collection frustrate these efforts. In these tight budget times, we have to look for innovative and efficient ways to combat the scourge of meth in our neighborhoods.

Over the last seven months, I have worked together with the sheriff and the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound (RHA) to craft legislation that would create a partnership between responsible property owners, tenants and our Sheriff Department. The RHA maintains that property owners don’t want the criminal activity of tenants on their property, but they often have no idea that it is happening. We were treated with an anecdote about one such property owner who would have had no idea that his tenants were drug dealers if he hadn’t seen the bust on the nightly news.

Our legislation would require the Sheriff Department to notify a property owner of serious crimes occurring on their property, including drug and sex offenses. If a property owner receives three of these notifications in a six-month period, then they would be required to take reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of this behavior continuing. This could be in the form of a class offered by organizations or municipalities helping landlords to recognize criminal activity, or they could simply ask the Sheriff Department to speak with the tenant about their behavior. Eventually, a property owner may need to seek the eviction of tenants. Evictions are often very difficult to win, but the information provided by the Sheriff Department will likely help a landlord in their case.

As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen what drugs do to our communities. It is very uncommon to see drug crimes standing alone. They are most likely tied with other illicit activity.

This legislation is another step toward taking our neighborhoods back. Our Sheriff Department can’t expend the resources to visit the same house 37 times, and with the passage of this legislation, it won’t have to.

Reagan Dunn is a Metropolitan King County Council member. His district includes Maple Valley, Covington and Black Diamond.




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