Dallas’ “nuisance” apartment complexes can be sued

City Council measure is a part of “crime prevention through environmental design”

The Dallas City Council voted unanimously this week to “crack down” on problem properties.
The measure allows the city to label properties as public safety nuisances, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Hazards such as nonworking outdoor lighting at multifamily properties or faulty roofs, walls, ceilings and doors can earn owners notice of nuisance property designation. Habitual crime can also earn the designation if it is the site of at least five police-documented crimes within 12 months.

Violators could face fines of up to $2,000 and a potential lawsuit if problems continue. Those with at least three citations for code violations within 12 months can even have their property labeled a habitual nuisance property.

Before it comes to that, however, they will receive recommendations from the Dallas Police Department and code enforcement on ways to deter crime or unsafe conditions, like adding security cameras, installing better outside lighting or putting up a fence. It’s a concept called crime prevention through environmental design, according to the DMN, which previously reported on the city using brighter outdoor light bulbs to deter crime.

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Nuisance designation could apply to apartment complexes, convenience stores and vacant houses and buildings, said Kevin Oden, interim director of the city’s office of integrated public safety solutions.

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“These are places where individuals may feel or be unsafe due to a lack of crime prevention measures,” Oden said. “And I mean common sense stuff, like not having landscaping that creates natural surveillance [opportunities] or making sure gates work on multi-tenant properties.”

The policy may have been implemented with targets in mind. Oden told the newspaper that there were already at least 108 properties that would likely fall under the public safety nuisance category as of Wednesday. About 35 of those would qualify for code violations, and the rest as habitual nuisance or high-crime properties.

“If a property owner is working with our teams and making good faith efforts, there’s no reason for our relationship to devolve into enforcement,” he added.

While litigation against property remains on the table, the threshold to go after a noncompliant property owner in court is high, Oden said. The city has to have evidence that conditions present a substantial danger to the public or that the site is a place that people regularly go to commit crimes.

“Additionally, the process to obtain court orders or compliance with a court order can be lengthy,” Oden said during a public safety committee meeting earlier this month.

— Maddy Sperling