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DeKalb to open rental housing bureau by late January

DeKALB – Amanda Burg is not expecting much to change on her lease.

On Monday, the DeKalb City Council gave final approval to a variety of housing ordinances geared toward fixing the city’s rental housing stock. One ordinance requires tenants, such as Burg to sign an addendum stating that they will not engage in illegal activities in and around their apartments.

But Burg, a sociology student at Northern Illinois University, already signed something similar before she moved into University Heights at 1110 Varsity Blvd.

“In my lease, you already agree to not commit illegal activities,” Burg said. “For them to make that a requirement already enforces what my lease says. It doesn’t seem like it’s harming anything.”

Failure to comply with this additional provision would be deemed a violation of the lease and could lead to eviction.

The housing ordinances are designed to increase accountability and consequences for tenants and landlords of all stripes – from single-unit owners to multifamily ones.

Under the new disorderly house provision, the city could prohibit a landlord from renting a certain property if that property is the site of three or more unlawful activities within a one-year period. Between each of these violations, there would be meetings with DeKalb police and city officials on how to rectify the situation.

If a landlord reaches “strike three,” they could face fines and interior inspections of their property, in addition to a prohibition of renting in the city.

Landlords also must register with the city annually and pay a fee, which members of the DeKalb Area Rental Association opposed to the very end of the debate.

The fee is $50 a building, with buildings with three or more units paying an additional $15.24 a unit.

DARA President Jim Morel said the ordinances apply to all residential properties, but the burden of funding falls to rentals.

“If these ordinances are good for the entire city, they should be paid for by the entire city,” Morel said.

The annual registration fees, which City Manager Mark Biernacki said landlords will begin paying by May, will fund a new city housing bureau that will enforce the ordinances. Ordinances become law 10 days after they have been passed, but the bureau’s success hinges upon its program coordinator.

Biernacki described the program coordinator as being the key liaison between police and landlords. The program coordinator will come up with different crime-free training programs for the landlords and designees to take, and call them when there’s an incident at their property.

“Certainly, the landlords should be aware of what’s going on their properties, but for practical considerations, they might not,” Biernacki said.

He hopes to have a program coordinator hired by late January.

Morel said the program coordinator will also host educational workshops about the ordinances for DARA-affiliated landlords starting in January.

The bureau also will consist of inspectors who will examine DeKalb housing from the public rights of way. When the bureau was slated to receive just more than $450,000 in funding, the inspectors would have inspected both rental and owner-occupied housing.

But with it receiving just more than $280,000, the inspectors will focus on rental units, another aspect Morel and DARA have criticized. Morel said the majority of buildings in the city are owner-occupied.

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