Renton has had its share of illegal spas, salons and massage parlors harboring illegal activities and operating as fronts for prostitution rings. Despite the best efforts of our Police Department and subsequent court action, it often seemed there was no stopping these illegal businesses — they would simply get a new name, a new license and open the next day for the same illegal business. Clearly, the standard approach to combating this type of crime simply is not enough.
I realized that we needed a different tactic that would make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible for these businesses to open again.
Typically, these illegal business owners rent space from property owners who are unaware of the type of activity going on in their buildings. Last year, when our Police Department served search warrants on six of these establishments, I asked our city attorney to write letters to the property owners and to the financial institutions that had liens on these properties to put them on notice that illegal activity was taking place on the property. We also informed them that under the terms of “nuisance abatement” landlords can be held responsible for illegal activity on their property if they allow it to continue once they have been made aware of it. There have been many previous arrests at each of these sites.
Once the situation was brought to their attention, the property owners and the respective lending institutions responded to us immediately, expressed their desire to work with the city and several started an eviction process. Three of the six businesses have permanently closed their doors and we expect similar results with the others.
This approach is effective because most property owners do not want criminal activity in their buildings, nor are they willing to face the stiff legal and financial ramifications of allowing it to continue. They understand that failing to act could result in civil liabilities and have a permanent effect on their reputation and financial solvency. As a result, property owners are working with the city to make it difficult for offenders to resume their illegal activity in the same place.
As is often the case, only a few criminals are responsible for a majority of this type of crime in our community. By targeting these few rotten apples, we get them off the streets and rid the city of the undesirable activity. This is another example of a non-traditional approach to reduce crime in our ongoing effort to make our city a safer place to live and play.
Mayor Denis Law can be reached at email@example.com.