CHARLES CITY | A new ordinance proposed by a local anti-drug group in Charles City would require every resident in a rental property to disclose their name to landlords — which then could be disclosed to law enforcement upon request.
Supporters of the ordinance, including mayoral candidate Matt Lovik, say the change will reduce illegal drug activity in Charles City and make neighborhoods safer.
Opponents, however, feel the ordinance may violate constitutional rights of those living in rental housing.
Steve Diers, city administrator for Charles City, said the ordinance is still in "very early stages" and research still needs to be done to see if other communities have adopted similar proposals.
He declined to comment on whether he felt the ordinance violated tenants' rights, citing the fact the ordinance has not been discussed in any public meetings.
"Any time we have any proposal, we need to look at the legality, practicality and implementation," Diers told the Globe Gazette by phone Friday. "So until we have the research done on that, we really can't comment."
The ordinance was introduced by the SoFar group in Charles City. Charley Thomson, one of its members, said the group's mission to reduce local drug usage and provide help for those who are addicted.
Thomson said he has heard complaints about the new ordinance impacting tenants' constitutional rights, particularly those under the Fourth Amendment. As an attorney, however, he believes the new ordinance is simply assisting with local housing laws and helping reduce the amount of illegal drugs in town.
"The idea is not to take on everyone in any group," he told the Globe Gazette by phone Friday. "The idea is we these are commercial [rental] arrangements, some of which have been causing problems."
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Thomson said he discussed the proposal with Heidi Nielsen, the executive director of Charles City's housing department.
Nielsen did not return a call or email for comment Friday afternoon.
Rita Bettis, the legal director of the ACLU of Iowa, said she would need to research the ordinance and similar cases more in-depth, but had preliminary concerns.
"Our concerns with crime free ordinances in general is that they are nothing more than housing discrimination dressed up as a crime-fighting tool," Bettis wrote in an email. "At the very least, this seems like an invasive overreach by local government that presumes that renters are by definition suspicious."
Thomson emphasized that the ordinance is a draft and wants the public to know that feedback is encouraged.
"(SoFar) just had a meeting last night," he said Friday. "We welcome any comments ... we're all ears, we want input."
Thomson added that SoFar plans to hold a public forum on the issue between Thanksgiving and Christmas and hopes the proposed ordinance can be updated to what the public feels is just.
He urged anyone interested to contact him with questions, comments and concerns.
"We’re not out to mess with anyone's Constitutional rights," he said. "But we are very serious about doing what we can to protect the public health and public safety from a very real and very deadly threat."