DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council began vetting ideas and recommendations Tuesday of its Safe/Quality Housing Task Force at a special joint meeting.
There was no vote and no public input at the two-hour, heavily attended meeting. Mayor Kris Povlsen said there will be at least two or three meetings after this one in which citizens can weigh in.
The additional ordinances the City Council are considering fall under four broad categories: criminal activity, chronic nuisances, registration/licensing and rental property inspections.
In regards to criminal activity, the task force recommended adopting an ordinance that would require tenants to agree they will not commit certain illegal activities under threat of eviction.
However, the proposed ordinance is worded so tenants do not need to be convicted to be evicted from their apartment. Police Chief Eugene Lowery said an eviction does not require a criminal conviction.
“It’s a really civil process; state statute controlled and governed by the courts, hence the preponderance of the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” Lowery said.
Lowery added that the illegal activity would have to be based in or around the tenant’s apartment. For instance, if a person committed a minor offense in another town, it will not affect his residency in a DeKalb apartment.
In two of the four recommendations presented, there was agreement between the task force and city staff, led by City Manager Mark Biernacki, with just a couple of minor differences or tweaks.
“We are on the same page on many of these issues,” Povlsen said. “It’s a nuance here or a nuance there.”
There is disagreement between city staff and the task force on what to do about registration and licensing. The task force would like to see a one-time registration of all landlords in the city with a fee of $3 per rental unit.
The city did require landlords to register with it 10 years ago, but Povlsen described the effort as a failure because of a lack of resources. He said the list went “untouched” and “sat on a shelf.” Brian Morsch, a task force member with the DeKalb Area Rental Association, said the original registration effort was not a failure on the landlords’ part.
“We do have a copy of the list, and according to the list, we have registered 435 properties,” Morsch said. “That probably isn’t current; it’s probably several years old, but I think that’s pretty good for a program that is self-mandated.”
Biernacki described the registration/license issue as being the key issue on which all the other issues hinge. He would like to see it become an annual license requirement for all landlords.
“I think it’s important we have this ultimate tool that would compel compliance, that being possible revocation of a license,” said Biernacki, comparing it to the city’s management of liquor licenses and fire safety licenses.
Herb Rubin, a task force member and professor emeritus of sociology at Northern Illinois University, questioned the wisdom of installing a program if there are only a few bad actors.
“The overall cumbersome nature of such a system versus what we’re going to be catching seems disproportionate,” Rubin said. “If you set up a system that is voluntary and, with the landlord association, socially-coerced, you have a fine system. ... I’m concerned about the overhead of this new system.”
A backdrop of the discussion is the fact the city has limited resources to implement the proposed ordinances, something Povlsen repeated throughout the two-hour discussion.
There was also disagreement on the issue of inspections. Currently, the city handles inspections on a complaint basis. The task force recommended keeping inspections like this, but the city staff recommended adding inspections from public sidewalks and similar areas. This also would cost more money to implement.
The task force also suggested installing a process when dealing with landlords that have “disorderly houses.” Landlords can face heavy fines if police are called to one of their units multiple times in a given year.
The housing task force’s recommendations:
• Require all tenants to agree to not engage in certain illegal activities in or around their apartment. Failure to comply would be deemed a violation of the lease and could result in eviction.
• Set up a three-tiered fine/remediation system for landlords whose units are visited a certain amount of times by police within a given year.
• Require all landlords, regardless of the number of units they operate, to register their contact information and pay a one-time fee of $3 for every rental unit they operate.
• Continue inspections on a complaint-only basis.