Control Your Tenants or Lose Your Home 

Control Your Tenants or Lose Your Home 
Posted by CN Staff on May 28, 2002 at 12:19:09 PT
By Mara Shalhoup
Source: Creative Loafing 
The Fulton County District Attorney's Office has taken a landlord to court this week on allegations that she knew her tenants were selling drugs and didn't do anything to stop them. Her proposed punishment? The county wants to take away her home.DA Paul Howard says he plans to bring nine more homeowners to similar, non-jury civil trials this year. If the DA's office is able to convince a judge that a home should be seized, the owner will lose all equity -- and the county will renovate the property and invite an Atlanta police officer to live there rent-free for a year. The house then will be put up for sale. 
This week, in the first trial of its kind, Imelda Balli fought to keep her West End home after Atlanta police identified it as a crack house. The trial has birthed an uneasy argument as to whether the court system should be in the business of seizing property from people who don't themselves commit a crime. Balli doesn't live at the house; her sons do. Georgia law, however, states that a district attorney has the right to forfeit property if it is used as a site for selling drugs -- regardless of whether the owner sold them. A landlord is exempt from the forfeiture only if he or she "did not consent to the drug dealing, and did not know and could not reasonably have known of the conduct." At one point in the trial, which began Monday, defense attorney Tom Ford cross-examined an Atlanta narcotics officer as to whether he was aware if Balli knew or should have known what was going on at her house on Atwood Street. He said no. But Sharon Chambers, with the Atlanta police financial investigation unit, testified that she hand-delivered a letter to Balli two years ago stating Balli must either ensure that her tenants do not sell drugs or evict them. At the time, Balli's sons Jashobeam and Sannyasa had each been arrested at least once for selling cocaine at the house. Investigator Chambers said Balli was not convinced her sons were drug dealers. "I recall her saying to us that this was a set-up against her boys." Ford asked Chambers during cross-examination if she offered Balli any advice as to how a mother can evict her sons. "Should she throw her kids out on the street, where this activity is likely to increase?" Ford asked. "Where they face death?" Outside the courthouse, DA Howard pointed out that in the two years after Balli got the letter, her sons twice sold crack cocaine to undercover officers and were arrested a collective seven times. Atlanta investigators also had warned Balli a second time of the impending forfeiture. "It seems to me," Howard said, "that they're just rubbing this in our face." Balli declined comment. Howard said Atlanta police have provided him with a list of 94 suspected crack houses in one police zone of the city -- the one in and around West End. Although he's taking a fraction of them to court this year, Howard hopes to continue with the forfeiture trials in years to come. If he succeeds, and if a cop is able to move into the refurbished houses, Howard anticipates the police presence will help curb crime. He said he's also hoping the crackdown on crack houses will spark interest within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Howard's office has applied for a $4.6 million HUD grant to renovate both shuttered crack houses and the homes of law-abiding citizens who live in the vicinity of them. People who live near drug traffickers deserve compensation, he said, because their property values have unfairly decreased. "Part of the reason there is damage to their homes," he says, "is the presence of crack houses." Note: DA trying to seize crack houses from homeowners. Source: Creative Loafing Atlanta (GA)Author: Mara ShalhoupPublished: May 22, 2001Copyright: 2002 Creative LoafingContact: letters.atl creativeloafing.comWebsite: http://www.atlanta.creativeloafing.comRelated Aricles:Law Would Attack Crime by Targeting Drug Houses Landlords Run Risk of Ruin
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