City considers stronger actions against nuisance properties

Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

The city of Tacoma is considering stronger efforts to be taken against owners of properties that generate crime and nuisance activity. Updates to the Chronic Nuisance Code and Business License Code were examined during the Aug. 14 Tacoma City Council study session.

Tax and License Division Manager Danielle Larson explained how a team of city employees began a review of the codes last year. In January this was expanded to bring in staff from the City Manager’s Office, Tacoma Police Department and other agencies of municipal government.

Among the concerns identified is a lack of enforcement options and the length of time it takes to resolve issues involved nuisance properties. One property that generated much feedback from the public is Morgan Motel, located on Pacific Avenue in the South End. It has generated complaints related to prostitution and drug activity.

In the business code, revocation of a license is one action the city can take. One area of improvement identified here is to have a correction agreement between the business owner and the city, spelling out steps to be taken. Larson said the reasons to revoke a license are considered too limited by staff. They want to take into considerations incidents that take place on adjacent property, such as shootings, on decisions affecting the owner of the problem property. Drugs, prostitution and weapons offense can cause a business to be shut down. Staff wants to expand this to include fourth-degree assault and violations of court orders to stay out of areas of drugs or prostitution.

Larson said the current code does not allow for permanent revocation of a business license. A change being considered would prohibit a business owner from applying for a license for 12 months after a license was revoked or denied.

City staff have been out this summer distributing flyers about the code changes to Neighborhood Councils, Business Districts and other groups. Councilmember Chris Beale said feedback from Safe Streets and Neighborhood Councils has been useful in crafting the code changes. He brought up the issue of plausible deniability, noting the owner of Morgan Motel only rented out rooms and claimed to be unaware of criminal activity occurring inside them.

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