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A crime-free rental housing sign hangs at the entrance of the Pear Tree Place apartments on Powerhouse Road in Yakima, one of many apartment complexes that participates in the city’s program.

Real estate companies, landlords and the Yakima Police Department are doing their part to cut down on crime through the city’s crime-free rental housing program, a city spokesman said.

The Legislature authorized crime-free rental housing programs in 2010 in an attempt to reduce drug- and gang-related crime. While Sunnyside’s program has come under scrutiny by the state Attorney General’s Office, a dozen other cities in Washington — including Yakima, Spokane, Prosser, Walla Walla and Tacoma — have long-standing crime-free housing program agreements in place.

Randy Beehler, spokesman for the city of Yakima, said the city’s 2,460 participating landlords are reaping multiple benefits from the city’s program, including safer and more satisfied tenants, lowered maintenance costs for property owners, and less officer time spent on crisis control. Beehler also is convinced Yakima’s program is following the law.

“Our program is reviewed on an ongoing basis by the city’s legal staff,” he said. “At this time, our legal department is confident that our program is in compliance.”

Yakima started its program in 2008, two years before the Legislature encouraged similar programs throughout Washington. It is a collaboration between the Yakima Police Department, the Yakima Valley Landlords Association and participating landlords.

How it works

Property owners who participate in the program include a crime-free addendum as part of their lease, in which tenants agree not to commit crimes in their units or anywhere on the property and acknowledge their lease will be terminated if they do.

Tenants also agree that any guests or invitees to their units or the property will refrain from criminal activity, including prostitution, gang-related activity, threats, assaults, drug use or unlawful discharge of firearms.

Beehler said if the police are called to a unit on a property that participates in the program, officers notify the landlord. The landlord then issues a notice to the tenant about the problem that needs to be fixed.

Beehler said the city has sent out 3,065 compliance notices to property owners to date, and that’s often all it takes to have issues resolved.

“We have had great cooperation from the landlords,” he said. “There are reductions in the nuisances and crimes we hear about because of the program, and that’s beneficial to not only the property owners and the tenants but also to the surrounding community.”

Tony Sloan, the vice president of the board for the Yakima Valley Landlords Association, said the police notifications help landlords track what’s happening on their properties, which allows them to act quickly and efficiently should there be a problem.

“A lot of times, the landlord is not living right near the renter and might not know everything that’s happening on the property,” he said. “When the police give the notification card to the landlord about a renter causing problems, that lets the landlord contact the renter.”

Sloan said problematic behaviors could involve tenants hoarding trash or parking junk vehicles on the property. Often, the tenants don’t know that their actions are considered a nuisance. Most tenants who receive compliance notices from landlords that detail the problematic behavior quickly fix the problem, Sloan said.

“Once the renters are educated, they start cleaning up. When you work with them, everything gets taken care of,” he said.

Education key

Education is equally empowering for landlords. The association and police department sponsor yearly classes and seminars to educate landlords on everything from screening prospective tenants to how to notify tenants who are violating lease conditions, Sloan said.

“We’ve had some landlords who were struggling with problems like tenants hoarding trash, but after they went through the program, things worked out smoothly,” he said.

All participants receive a crime-free rental housing program training resource manual, which includes information about rental agreements, tenant screening, the eviction process, landlord/tenant laws, improving property security and safety, and identifying and reporting illegal activity, including gang activity and drug use.

The Pear Tree Place Apartments, owned by Next Step Housing, is one of the many complexes participating in the program. Executive Director John Mifsud said he has particularly appreciated the free training and consultation with the police department.

Mifsud said the resident manager at Pear Tree went through a 12-hour training on crime prevention and became certified as a crime prevention specialist, training he sees as indispensable. Mifsud said the police department also reviewed the architectural design of his properties and helped coordinate a neighborhood block watch. Being part of the program also has allowed for the posting of a “crime-free rental housing” sign on the property, Mifsud said.

“I like to advertise that we’re aligned with the Yakima Police Department,” he said. “The police have been very helpful, and we get very few calls to the property.”

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.