Naperville mulls mandating apartment crime-prevention program

 
 
Updated 11/18/2014 9:41 AM

The crime-free housing program that's been in place since 2002 in Naperville is voluntary.

Apartment managers and landlords can join if they want, gaining the benefits of a property inspection to evaluate safety hazards, use of a crime-free lease addendum to require tenants to keep criminal activity out of their homes and a closer relationship with Naperville police.

 

Deputy Chief of Investigations Brian Cunningham said the program has worked well, but now there's talk of making it mandatory.

City council member Steve Chirico suggested the change at a recent meeting, saying Naperville should follow other communities, such as Addison, Carol Stream, Glendale Heights and Bolingbrook, which have made the program mandatory to keep crime low at apartment developments in town.

"If none of the other communities around us were doing it, then it probably wouldn't be that beneficial for us to make it mandatory," Chirico said. "But when the surrounding communities are all including it in their ordinances, I think it's going to be that much more important for us to make sure we're also tightening the restrictions to make sure we don't allow known criminals or known felons to be moving into our community."

Rental accountability

The crime-free housing program in Naperville requires a three-step process, said Julie Smith, crime prevention specialist. It includes participation in a police-led seminar to learn about tenant screening procedures, a site visit for police to inspect for potential safety hazards such as inadequate lighting or overgrown landscaping and a safety social in the community to inform tenants about safety and the crime-free program.

When run well, crime-free housing programs can develop accountability among apartment residents, management and police.

"It's about holding people responsible for their actions and having repercussions," said Becky Noel, executive director of the nonprofit International Crime-Free Association, who runs the program in Tucson, Arizona. "It's not just about the bad properties; it's also about trying to keep the good ones good."

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Any landlord in Naperville -- no matter whether they've participated in the crime-free program steps -- can take one action to keep problems away by using a crime-free lease addendum available on the city's website. The document becomes a civil contract for the tenant not to engage in or allow any criminal activity in their home. Use of the addendum is not required for participation in Naperville's voluntary program, but it is required in some other communities, Noel said.

Chirico said the addendum is important because it gives landlords the authority to kick out tenants who break the law.

"Most leases don't include that kind of information," Chirico said. "Usually that's not grounds to evict them."

Cunningham said burglaries, especially from cars, are among the most common crimes at Naperville apartment complexes, 11 of which have completed all three steps to be certified through the voluntary program.

But he said making the program mandatory could help cut down on more serious crime at rental properties, such as the case of seven people charged with felony drug conspiracy and sales this July at the Naper Trails complex off Bailey Road west of Naper Boulevard.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"If we had mandatory crime-free, we probably would have intercepted that prior to it being what it was: a large-scale drug operation," Cunningham said.

Chirico said he began investigating the issue when residents near Lincoln Junior High at 75th Street and Olympus Drive invited him to a neighborhood meeting to discuss nearby crime concerns.

"More and more when we look at the crime map, the hot spots are always very concentrated and it almost always lands on the higher-density areas in town," Chirico said.

Crime-free benefits

While Naperville considers making its crime-free housing program mandatory, the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference is continuing two decades of efforts to extend the ability to create such programs to non-home rule communities. Under state law, municipalities without home rule status can't require their landlords and property managers to participate in a crime-free housing program because they can't create one, said Mark Baloga, DuPage Mayors and Managers' executive director.

"A number of our home rule communities have found some real benefits to having crime-free housing and we'd like to have that expanded to the non-home rule communities that have the same issues but happen to be smaller," Baloga said.

Also an advocate for allowing communities without home rule to create crime-free regulations is 23rd District state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a former mayor in Villa Park, which is not home rule. While Cullerton pushed a bill that would have expanded permission to create crime-free housing programs to all municipalities in the state, it failed to get out of committee in 2013.

Still, he said he'll keep working on the issue.

"It's been a success in cleaning up rental communities and it's been a success in landlords taking care of their communities more once they're held accountable," Cullerton said.

Opposition has come from apartment managers and real estate agents, Cullerton and Baloga said. A Naperville-area representative of the Illinois Association of Realtors did not respond to calls for comment.

Naperville next steps

Naperville police are researching ordinances so they don't have to "re-create the wheel," if city council members choose to make the crime-free housing program mandatory.

"I think it'll be helpful for us," Cunningham said. "We'll get larger buy-in from the rental communities."

Cunningham said he plans to bring a report to the council next month so discussions can begin on the specifics of the potential regulation, such as whether there would be a licensing fee, and whether additional staff members or staff time would be needed.

The topic also is scheduled to be discussed at meetings next year of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation.

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