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updated: 7/29/2014 6:23 PM

Wheeling considers requiring landlords to join crime fight

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  • Video: Police on Crime-free Housing

 

The Wheeling Village Board is excited about a proposal requiring all landlords in the village to join a crime-free housing program, but trustees are nervous about finding funds for the program.

Police Cmdrs. Terrie Wisnewski and Pete Panagakis told the board the voluntary program started in the early 2000s has reduced calls for police service by as much as 30 percent in communities that join. Now the department thinks it is time to require all rental units -- both multifamily and single-family -- to join.

Several area municipalities use the program to help reduce crime in rental housing, and Wheeling board agreed Monday to have village staff members prepare hard estimates for upcoming budget talks.

Landlords in the program take an eight-hour class, run criminal background checks on potential tenants, use a lease that says the tenant will be evicted for any criminal action, evict lawbreakers and install crime-prevention features such as lighting and 3-inch screws on deadbolts.

Village Attorney Jim Ferolo said renting to ex-offenders is not forbidden, and the goal is to prevent future crimes.

Implementing the requirement would cost the police department at least $150,000 annually, and the community development department a similar amount, mostly for increased staffing, the officers said.

Police Chief Bill Benson said he really believes in the program but would be hard-pressed to choose between implementing this and the return of some of the six positions in his department that are empty because of budget cuts.

Trustees asked if fees for landlords could cover the costs, and Benson said that might get onerous as landlords already pay a licensing fee. He also said using a civilian instead of a sworn officer to save costs might not work.

Village Manager Jon Sfondilis said village staff members will include options in its presentation to the board. It takes about three years for a program to show results, he said.

Panagakis said the program should be required because many landlords balk at the cost of physically improving their properties. This program makes their rentals more valuable in the long run and gives them happier tenants who stay longer, he said.

Village President Dean Argiris said the village should immediately require any newly constructed rental developments to join the program.

Another issue that would make enforcement difficult is that 1,700 units are licensed in the village but as many as 4,000 might exist.

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