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updated: 7/13/2011 4:29 PM

St. Charles looks to chase riffraff out of rental units

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St. Charles may institute a new program designed to weed out both bad landlords and criminal tenants as soon as this fall.

City staff told aldermen this week the economy is driving more people than in previous years into the city's 4,300 rental units. While most rental units in the city maintain peace, crime reports indicate more police activity at rentals than city officials would like to see.

Police Chief Jim Lamkin meets monthly with apartment owners and managers in a voluntary information sharing program. Lamkin said police share information about how to be good landlords, and property owners can share information about problem tenants.

The city wants to formalize those meetings into a licensing program. The program would help landlords navigate criminal background checks for tenants while also pushing for better property maintenance and evictions of tenants who commit crimes in the rental units. The licensing program would carry a fee for landlords and possibly fines for property owners who fail to comply. Lamkin told aldermen that maintaining a friendly relationship with landlords is key.

"It's better to have a carrot rather than a stick is what I'd say," Lamkin said.

Aldermen supported staff's desire to come back with a formal licensing program plan in September. They suggested placing the emphasis of the program on the conduct of tenants.

"Crime-free housing is the No. 1 goal." First Ward Alderman Dan Stellato said. "I am not as much worried about interior inspections as I am about crime-free housing."

Third Ward Alderman William Turner said single-family homes used as rental units should also be included, but Lamkin countered that those properties can be hard to identify.

The idea has the support of the Near West Neighborhood Association where many of the city's rental units are clustered. Chairwoman Kim Malay asked aldermen to focus on what's truly achievable in a landlord licensing program.

"Just do away with the interior property reviews," Malay said. "We are having more gang activity. We are having more crime in the area. We do have to make sure we start doing something to protect the neighborhood."