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Government Local

New task considered for crime-free housing office

Mission could shift away from code enforcement

Carl Leoni, the city of DeKalb's Crime Free Housing & Inspection Coordinator, inspects the lawn at a rental property located on the 400 block of Fairlane Avenue in DeKalb on Aug. 16. Leoni works with landlords to bring properties up to city code.
Carl Leoni, the city of DeKalb's Crime Free Housing & Inspection Coordinator, inspects the lawn at a rental property located on the 400 block of Fairlane Avenue in DeKalb on Aug. 16. Leoni works with landlords to bring properties up to city code.

DeKALB – Carl Leoni is trying to prove that old cops can learn new tricks.

The 33-year veteran of the DeKalb Police Department now heads its Crime Free Housing Program. He has been taking classes over the last few months to learn about property code enforcement, so he can fight more than just crime.

“We’re looking at grass and weeds, garbage, siding, windows, roofs,” Leoni said. “We want to make sure that buildings are sealed tight and keeping the weather out and aren’t making the rest of the neighborhood look bad.”

After retiring from the police force, Leoni was hired by the city in his new role, but some landlords and City Council members are questioning whether the fledgling program should focus on more than fighting crime among the city’s estimated 9,000 rental properties.

Currently, the program has the approval to hire three part-time property inspectors, hires Leoni said would be phased in over the next year. But today’s City Council meeting could change that if six of the council’s eight members vote to amend the city budget and keep code inspectors in the code inspections department.

Interim City Manager Rudy Espiritu said 6th Ward Alderman Dave Baker made a request to city staff on Tuesday for them to look into the issue.

“The staff is going to seek guidance from the council on how they want us to do this, but we’ve already been gearing up, Carl Leoni has been gearing up to set up the inspections program, hire these individuals,” Espiritu said. “That was the previous direction we got from City Council, so if they want to change that, they can change that.”

Baker says changes are needed.

“My feeling and I think much of the council feels that the Crime Free Housing Program is about crime-free housing, and that’s what they need to concentrate on,” he said. “That’s a very successful program and we’ve already seen that.”

The Crime Free Housing Program, years in the making, launched in February, registering the city’s thousands of rental properties and landlords to create a database which now contains information on about 8,000 rental properties.

As part of the process, each landlord is required to pay a fee of $50 for each building they manage, as well as $15.42 for each rental unit in a multi-family home.

Leoni also tracks reports of illegal activity that tenants commit in or around their rental units and encourages landlords to actively fight against this activity and evict problem tenants. So far 208 cases have been opened with a total of 228 charges filed against tenants, resulting in 33 evictions.

“It’s a behavior-driven program,” Leoni said. “If there’s no criminal behavior, then the crime-free part of this program doesn’t get involved.”

It’s this aspect that William Heinisch, the president of the DeKalb Area Rental Association, appreciates.

“We think it has had a positive effect on landlords working together, forming relationships and identifying bad behavior, and that’s been a positive for the city,” Heinisch said. “... We support the Crime Free Housing Bureau. Carl Leoni is doing a great job.”

Currently, the program inspects properties only in response to complaints, but with three part-time inspectors, Leoni thinks it could check every registered property once a year.

“I’m hoping it’s not too daunting of a task, but that’s what we’re shooting for,” he said.

But Heinisch said the community prefers that the program focus on crime, so he appreciates the fact that the City Council will be reviewing that process on Monday.

“This is something that the community proposed,” Heinisch said. “... That was a combination of landlords, citizens and stakeholders in the community. The council was never able to give direction, and some council members are surprised at how it’s being handled.”

Espiritu, however, said city staff would suggest to the council that the current plan not be changed.

“What we’re going to suggest is, why don’t we keep that as is for now,” he said, “and then a year from now, we will just reassess the whole program and give a report to City Council as to what is working, what is not working, and what recommendations we would suggest to improve the program.”

The City Council meets at 6 p.m. today in the council chambers, 200 S. Fourth St., DeKalb.

By the numbers

Progress of the city’s Crime Free Housing Program since February:

Rental properties in DeKalb: About 9,000

Properties registered: About 8,000

Compliance rate: 87 percent

Charges filed against tenants: 228

Evictions: 33

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