The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Local News

March 14, 2011

Fort Wayne to resume enforcing landlord law

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The city of Fort Wayne is ready to resume enforcing a city ordinance that holds landlords responsible for drug trafficking, gambling or prostitution that occurs on properties they own.

The city had suspended enforcement of the law after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in June 2009 challenging the constitutionality of the law on behalf of a landlord who did not want to evict a woman he described as a model tenant. Gavin Rose, an ACLU staff attorney, said Monday that case was settled and the city agreed it would not pursue any further action against that landlord.

Since then, the law has been revised and enforcement is set to resume, Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York told the Journal Gazette.

"We pretty much suspended enforcement, but now we're ready to go again," he said.

Under the law, landlords have 30 days to evict tenants discovered to be engaging in those activities, or they face fines and other penalties.

Rose said he still has concerns for landlords being held at fault for the actions of tenants.

"What I can say in general terms is there may very well be constitutional issues that become problematic when the city seeks to hold the landlord liable for something that occurs on his or her property without his knowledge or without his involvement in any manner," he said.

The Journal Gazette reported Monday that former Allen Superior Court Judge Ken Scheibenberger announced on Facebook last week that he is the city's new coordinator of the ordinance after the position had gone unfilled for about a year a half. Scheibenberger was an Allen County judge for 20 years before losing November's election to Wendy Davis.

He helped found the county's drug court as well as set up a program for high-risk probationers. But the Indiana Supreme Court admonished him for changing a court date in another judge's file and suspended him in another instance for entering another judge's courtroom and calling a defendant there a drug dealer. Scheibenberger apparently believed the man sold illegal drugs to his late son.

His new job was created in 1993 as part of the city's drug house ordinance. York said the drug house ordinance coordinator reports to the captain of vice and narcotics and helps the unit with tips regarding illegal activities taking place at rental properties. The coordinator is also in contact with landlords of such properties, helping solve any problems, York said.

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