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Proposed nuisance ordinance has DeKalb landlords annoyed

Proposals for stricter housing code enforcement and regular rental unit inspections has sparked ire among DeKalb landlords and residents. A chronic-nuisance ordinance would require landowners to meet with the city and work to fix the offenses if their tenants violate city laws three times in one year. Violations include felony offenses such as possession of drugs or weapons and misdemeanors such as underage alcohol consumption or noise violations. Under the rental inspection program, exteriors of rental units would be periodically checked for disrepair, and the interiors would be examined at least once every five years, DeKalb Community Development Director Russ Farnum said. Residents and landlords have vehemently opposed the measures, arguing that current housing codes and nuisance laws are strict enough and that the rental inspections would be a violation of privacy. They also said the cost for rental inspections - which would be added to rent rates - would add too much to tenants' costs. If the nuisance ordinance is enacted, property owners would have to meet with the city to establish a timeline to address violations, Farnum said. If the timeline isn't met, the landowner can be fined from $250 to $1,000. Property can be seized for up to one year if fines go unpaid. “Every year we have a handful of properties with chronic and repetitive problems,” Farnum said. “Fining $50 here and there (isn't) changing actions.” Susan Besinger, chief operating officer of Autumn Creek Management, said “nuisance” is not clearly defined in the ordinance. She believes the vague definition and the possibility of property seizure make the ordinance “too ripe for abuse.” “No one is saying that protecting the public from serious crimes is a bad idea, but draw the line carefully,” Besinger said. “There are better ways to deal with noise and alcohol violations, and they shouldn't be treated like weapon and drug offenses.” Rental units account for nearly half the properties in DeKalb, Farnum said, and the inspections are intended to ensure that the units don't degrade. Apartments would be charged $12 a year to fund the program, and single- and multi-family units would be charged about $100 a year. “If a building was wired in the 1960s and it still works well, we won't make a landlord replace the system,” Farnum said. Besinger said the inspections would violate tenants' rights to privacy. Instead of instituting mandated inspections, the city should make tenants aware of its tenant handbook, which tells tenants how to request that city code inspectors check their properties for violations, Besinger said. “If this really was about anything other than raising money and snooping around tenants' private lives, then the (current) ordinance and handbook should be sufficient for them to know their rights and have their rights protected,” Besinger said.

If you go What: A DeKalb city staff meeting about a proposed chronic-nuisance ordinance and rental inspection program When: 1:30 p.m. Thursday Where: City council chambers, second floor of 200 S. Fourth St.

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