Omaha landlord is a pain to city hall
(Omaha World-Herald (NE) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 7--As a Citizen, capital C, of Nebraska, Omaha landlord Paul Hansen believes that neither the city nor Douglas County holds sway over him.
That's why the 49-year-old owner of dilapidated rental housing refuses to pay property taxes on time, if at all, and never without protest. It's why he generally doesn't heed city code inspectors' numerous requests about getting permits or fixing up his mostly inner-city properties.
And it's why Hansen continues to ring up a bill for the citizens, lowercase c, of Douglas County and Omaha.
Two of his properties, 3202 Seward St. and 1314 S. 30th Ave., are landing Hansen in court Friday on criminal charges of housing code violations.
The Douglas County Courthouse is a local government entity Hansen appears to recognize. Though no lawyer, Hansen is a student of the law who pulls out handwritten copies of the U.S. Constitution and, to challenge jurisdiction of local authorities, asks questions such as, "Where are we?" He contends that no government official has shown him how the city or county holds jurisdiction over his private property.
Thus he refers to himself in legal documents as "Paul John Hansen, common law Nebraska Citizen, Accused Citizen," and sometimes underlines the capital "C" to emphasize his rights.
This approach has made him a minor, albeit notorious, celebrity at city hall, where everyone seems to know the polite, clean-cut contrarian who once tried to pay his taxes in pennies.
Hansen is not the county's biggest tax or code offender, but he does stand out because of his argument over jurisdiction. His alleged offenses on trial at 9 a.m. Friday are relatively minor misdemeanors, but some are predicting a full gallery.
Hansen plans to make his case that the city does not have proper jurisdiction over him.
"There's a saying you can't fight city hall. That's a myth," Hansen said. "You can own property in the middle of the city -- of what people commonly know or recognize as the City of Omaha -- and the property can be privately owned on the Nebraska soil with no relationship with the City of Omaha. And you're just simply subject to common law, which is basically your neighbors and a jury."
It's local taxpayers who foot the cost of fighting Hansen's beliefs. Government officials were unable to provide an exact tally, but public records and officials' estimate the costs so far:
--Hundreds of city code inspector hours at $31 an hour for numerous visits to Hansen's properties. A home valued at $12,300, recently cost the city $8,915 to tear down.
--An unknown number of hours at $61 an hour in the City Prosecutor's Office for the pending criminal case on the properties in question for Friday's trial. Both hourly rates reflect salary only, not benefits or other costs.
--At least 50 hours in 2007 alone of attorney time at about $40 an hour and 100 hours of staff time at about $20 an hour in the Douglas County Attorney's Office. The office estimates it has conducted more than 20 foreclosure actions in the past five years. Five Hansen properties are in tax foreclosure now.
--An estimated $49,000 in unpaid or delinquent property taxes. This includes tax liens on six houses and foreclosure decrees and subsequent taxes on five houses.
Hansen refuses to pay his property taxes because he says no one has yet shown him where exactly the law requires him to do so.
"We live in a free country," he said. "We have no obligation to pay taxes until you seek a specific benefit from the government."
Kim Hawekotte, a deputy Douglas County attorney, said of Hansen's challenges: "We get numerous motions that he files and affidavits and subpoenas and briefs with these cases. Stuff after stuff," she said. "He still deals in land patents and squatter's rights. . . . We really haven't worked on the land patent system for 100 years."
But Hansen contends that common law outlined in the U.S. Constitution trumps municipal code or local property tax.
He believes local government could save itself -- and him -- a lot of money and rigmarole if he were just left alone.
Hansen estimates his fight has cost him $100,000 in the torn-down house at 2876 Binney St. and in lost income from properties the city has deemed unfit. He believes he is being punished by code inspectors and hampered from providing what he views as a service to low-income people who need an affordable place to live.
"There's a lack of affordable housing because the government is so hard on people like me," he said. "I can't even afford to fix my homes up because they're constantly attacking me."
One former tenant didn't think he was getting a deal at Hansen's house at 3839 Decatur St.
Ted Harris said he rented the first floor of the 122-year-old home for about a year but finally moved because of crooked floors, a nonworking toilet and a front door without a lock. To keep it closed, Harris jammed a steak knife into the door frame and bent it over.
Harris said he painted walls, refinished wood floors and even cut the grass but got fed up with the property's condition and stopped paying the $375 monthly rent. He eventually moved out.
"I'm 57; I'm too old for this," he said.
Hansen said he's clear with tenants about a property's condition and sometimes works out arrangements for them to help fix up the homes. But he said his low-income clientele were tough to work with and sometimes trashed the properties.
He didn't address Harris specifically but said for tenants who get behind on rent, "I automatically become the devil."
"I truly believe that if the city would leave me alone and allow common law to work," he said, "everybody would be better off."
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