A new ordinance began in the City of Dubuque July 1st that requires landlords to run a criminal background check on all people who fill out a rental application. Lieutenant Scott Baxter is the police department’s crime prevention officer.
“It’s part of an ongoing effort to basically lower our crime, ensure that landlords and property managers are getting quality tenants,” Baxter says, “tenants that aren’t going to generate problems for them, and us as a police department, and in general, just to make the community a safer place.”
Baxter says the police department has provided free background checks for several years and landlords can use the department, or seek out checks on their own. He says the law requires checks that look for any felony and misdemeanor charges and convictions, but it does not say how the landlords have to use the information they find.
Baxter says a lot of it will be up to the discretion of the landlords or property managers who they ultimately rent to based on the background checks. “The main point is that they know going into it when they rent to somebody what the background is, and …it’s certainly possible people could pay their penance and be rehabilitated and if the person feels confident that tenant is one of those people, great.”
He says it will allow the landlord to know going in what they might face and they could be held partially responsible if there are problems later with the tenant. Baxter says the landlord could face a fine if the police department is getting called to a rental over and over for the same tenant and they find the landlord did not do a background check.
He says they could also face the possibility of losing their rental license, and he says the fine and lost of license are two of the more severe repercussions. But Baxter says he doesn’t anticipate any problems unless they do have a case where they are getting continued problems with a tenant.
Landlords who have ten units or more are now required to attend a city program on “crime free housing.” Baxter says he does not see the changes being a big issue as most of the landlords do a great job. Baxter says the changes are geared toward the “hands off” managers who he says are interested only in getting a check and don’t “care about how well the property is maintained, the quality of tenant they are renting to.”
Baxter says he’s not sure how many other cities require landlords to run background checks. He says most good landlords are interested in running the checks along with financial checks to be sure they are getting good tenants.