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Kuntz: Change the housing code

BY KATIE KUNTZ | NOVEMBER 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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A door from the outside leads to a poorly lit stairwell that leads to a gray-floored hallway. On the landing of the hallway, a crawlspace accessible only by a ladder leads to an attic.

This is where Elwyn Gene Miller allegedly spied on his tenants while they were in their bathrooms, as sizable holes, large enough to fit three fingers through, were strategically placed near vents so tenants may easily dismiss them as regular wear and tear. 

Miller was arrested Oct. 31 and has since been charged with four counts of invasion of privacy.

This punishment is not enough to deter these heinous actions from happening in the future.

“I was one of the tenants he admitted to spying on — my roommate and I both,” said University of Iowa senior Ruth Lapointe, a current tenant of the accused. “I obviously think that he shouldn’t have the right to rent property out to people, [that] he should lose that right completely.”

Indeed, no person should be subjected to this sort of invasion of privacy, and at least six of Miller’s tenants have now contacted the police stating that there are peep holes in their bathrooms or bedrooms.

The city of Iowa City must react to this situation and implement greater protections for all students and other residents living in this community.

The current Iowa City housing code does not have specific provisions in it regarding the right of privacy of tenants, nor does it have any provisions that would punish Miller as a landlord for his voyeurism.

“Invasion of privacy charge is not a violation of the housing code,” said Doug Boothroy, the director of the city’s Housing and Inspection Services. “It’s never come up as an issue as I know it until now, at least since 1984, when I became director of the housing code.”

But under the current ordinances, even if the code was amended to forbid the accused from renting, he could potentially create a limited liability company and rent that way or put the ownership in the name of a family member.

“It’s more complicated than just revoking a rental permit,” Boothroy said. “I don’t know whether or not it would be a very enforceable regulation; I just don’t know the legal mechanics for how to keep him away from what he owns.”

Still, the city must work to keep renters safe. Greg Bal, the supervising attorney for University of Iowa Student Legal Services, said he is always working to protect student tenants.

“Safety for students as far as renting off campus is one of our major concerns,” he said. “It would be easier if the city amended the code to include things like basis for tenants to terminate the lease and damages for costs incurred in a situation like this.”

Bal said Student Legal Services offers some resources that allow students to access information about rental companies off campus, but there is still a lot to be done for students in general, and especially for the victims of this particular case.

“They should be able to move out, because having to live in the same place can be detrimental to their well-being,” Bal said. “But I’m not sure there is a way to keep [Miller] from doing the same thing in the future.”

Other than violations against the code, Miller has thus far been charged with a serious misdemeanor, the punishment for which is up to one year in jail. This charge would not even require that the accused’s name be included in the Sex Offender Registry, and the misdemeanor charge may not be enough to alert new tenants to the real danger.

“I don’t understand why it’s not a felony given repeat offenses,” Lapointe said. “I would see him in prison over money any day but I know the criminal-justice system won’t do that. He can only be hurt civilly, so I want to see him hurt civilly.”

Not only should the housing code adapt to include specific remedies for tenants if their privacy is so wildly invaded, the penal code should require that landlords such as these should register as sex offenders and place harsher punishments to deter crimes like this in the future.


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