Juneau explores using fines to address ‘chronic nuisance properties’

Boards bar access and signs declare no trespassing at 401 Harris St. in Juneau, pictured here on Oct. 1, 2018.
Boards bar access and a sign declares no trespassing at 401 Harris St. in Juneau, pictured here on Oct. 1, 2018. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau is looking into a new way to deal with properties that make frequent appearances on the police blotter.

At a committee meeting Monday night, Juneau Police Department Lt. Jeremy Weske outlined the issue to the Juneau Assembly.

He said local police spend a disproportionate amount of resources on a small number of properties that receive frequent calls.

But a state law makes it possible for the city to fine property owners who receive an excessive number of police calls within a certain time frame.

“Where before neighbors may have just felt like it was something that they had to put up with, I think now we’re seeing that people are trying to push back and take their neighborhood back, and I don’t blame them for it.”

But first, Weske said, the Assembly would need to pass an ordinance outlining the number of police responses, types of responses and specific consequences for problem properties.

The current proposal suggests a $400 fine for every incident after a property meets the criteria the city decides on.

City Manager Rorie Watt cited several recent examples of problem properties around downtown. The Bergmann Hotel, 401 Harris St. and the Gastineau Apartments were all owned at one time by the same family.

The first two properties now sit empty. The city demolished the Gastineau Apartments in 2016 after the building was deemed a public nuisance.

“Having watched that slow train wreck in motion and an extraordinary use of public resources, first responder resources that we sent to all of those properties … I think economic pressure on that ownership group would have helped move to speedier resolution of a responsible party taking charge of those properties.”

Some Assembly members raised concerns about the potential for abuse by landlords or vindictive neighbors. Weske said safeguards would be built into the ordinance to prevent those scenarios.

The committee asked Weske to work with city staff to draft an ordinance with specific language to bring back at a future meeting.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that police calls for domestic violence and child neglect would be included in the chronic nuisance property designation. Those types of responses, as well as sexual assault, are typically excluded from this type of ordinance.

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