DeKALB – After discussing the issues for nearly two years, the DeKalb City Council finally cast its first official vote Tuesday on ordinances that are geared to fixing the city's rental property issues.
But it became apparent through extensive debate that the aldermen and landlords from the DeKalb Area Renters' Association were divided on different aspects of creating a new city inspection bureau.
The city and DARA were able to agree on the inclusion of a crime-free lease addendum, crime-free training for the landlords, the "three strikes" disorderly house provision and a sidewalk exterior inspection program. A preliminary vote supported those measures, with aldermen David Jacobson and Monica O'Leary of the First and Seventh Wards, respectively, voting against them.
The aldermen approved registering local landlords, but whether they would have to pay a certain fee per building or per multifamily home was tabled to a future meeting. The landlords disagreed strongly with the fees which would help fund a new city inspection bureau that would enforce the various ordinances.
"When you have fees and costs, they have to be directly related to the payer," said landlord Jim Mason. "If you don't have an inspection, you shouldn't have to pay for someone else's inspection."
Mason asserted that the registration program was unconstitutional in practice and construction. City Attorney Dean Frieders immediately refuted this point after Mason was done speaking.
"How you fund is up to you," Frieders said. "But I don't want you to go into this thinking that what we're funding and how it's constructed is unconstitutional."
Seventh Ward Alderwoman Monica O'Leary was among the aldermen who have been against creating another city department.
"They're the community," O'Leary said about DARA. "And they're telling us what they want, and yet we're telling them what they need. I'm not understanding what we're doing."
City Manager Mark Biernacki is proposing the creation of a "Housing Registration and Inspection Bureau" that would consist of one program coordinator, a clerk, and three inspectors to implement the different housing recommendations.
Biernacki previously estimated the office would cost the city $454,000 a year, not to mention start-up costs for office equipment, about $135,000. The bureau would be funded half by the city's general fund and half by registration fees.
Fourth Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher proposed going forward with only two inspectors that would be entirely funded by the registration fees.
"I know you feel like this is another unnecessary hammer coming down on you as always, but you chose this, to be a landlord," Gallagher said, adding that the city spends a lot of time dealing with housing. "I'm sorry, but we have to figure out a way on how to contain and maintain the city so it doesn't fall into ruin."