St. Charles to revise proposed laws on rental properties

 
 
Updated 9/13/2011 5:32 AM

St. Charles officials had their first look Monday night at a new set of laws that attempt to clean up problems with crime and unkept or overcrowded rental properties by holding them to a different standard than owner-occupied houses.

City officials said crime and property code violations are a much bigger problem in and around rental housing in the city than owner-occupied units. To address that problem, city staffers drafted a residential licensing and inspection program for the city's 3,426 rentals.

 

The program would require landlords to attend a crime-free housing seminar hosted by police officials before renting any property and every four years after that. The city also would create a crime-free lease addendum that makes the commission of any crimes in rental units a lease violation that may spark eviction of the tenant. As currently worded, the tenant would need only to be charged with a crime but not convicted to trigger the lease violation and possible eviction.

City officials also want to require interior, exterior and common area property inspections by city staffers. As currently envisioned, landlords would be held responsible for any tenant who refuses to allow city inspectors inside their rental unit. But the proposed law would not usurp the tenants' ability to refuse an inspection and force the securing of a search warrant for the inspection to proceed. The landlord would still be in trouble with the city in that scenario.

Officials said the program will cost about $6,500 to create and add about $173,000 in new costs to the city budget on an annual basis. Staffers hope to offset some of that price tag by charging fees for the annual license and inspection requirements. Right now, the fees would be $75 for single-family and townhouse units. The inspection fee for apartments would be $32 per unit.

If the city inspected every rental unit in the city each year, that would net about $179,000 of revenue for the city. However, the program calls for inspection of only 20 percent of the units within the largest apartment complexes.

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Landlords in attendance for the presentation of the proposed program bristled at the details; they said the license fees were on the high side. They also complained about the city not soliciting their opinions before crafting the framework for the plan.

Kristen Jungels, government affairs director for the Realtor Association of the Fox Valley, also said the program goes too far in mandating interior inspections.

"Are you going to reduce crime in a house by looking at the plumbing?" Jungels asked. She also encouraged city officials to not create new burdens on the housing market.

"If there's a property available, and we're going in to show it, we want to make sure the city of St. Charles is not doing anything to prevent the sale or occupancy of that property."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

City aldermen said they wanted more time to review the plan before approving a final version. The plan is on track to kick in Jan. 1. Alderman Ray Rogina said he's particularly sensitive to any program that possibly singles out renters in St. Charles as a different class of people compared to homeowners.

"A homeowner isn't going to leave his residence because of a DUI," Rogina said. "A tenant shouldn't have to, either."

All aldermen present agreed some form of a crackdown on rental units is a good idea. They'll continue the discussion about reasonable parameters for that crackdown at a meeting Nov. 14.