Riverside property owners who receive blight citations in the future will not have to go to the circuit court in Maybrook to resolve those issues. Instead, beginning in January, anyone receiving a citation will be called to appear before a local adjudicator at the Riverside Township Hall.
On Nov. 7, the Riverside Village Board voted unanimously to expand the cases overseen by its municipal adjudicator to include property maintenance violations. For many years the local adjudicator has presided over minor police matters, such as parking tickets, vehicle sticker violations and the like.
The move to bring local property maintenance issues in-house comes in conjunction with a more active push by the village of Riverside to identify property maintenance violations and get them addressed.
“In the past the village has been reactive,” said Village Manager Peter Scalera. “We’d receive a complaint and follow up.”
Following the publication of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency on Planning’s comprehensive plan for Riverside’s downtown in April, village officials decided to make property maintenance a higher priority. While the CMAP plan doesn’t address residential property maintenance, it does identify “street appeal” as a factor in attracting development downtown.
“One of the things is maintaining building integrity, to showcase the community,” Scalera said. “And having structures compliant with code makes the village more attractive to specific businesses.”
In September, Riverside blight inspector, Karen Byrne, was tasked with making a sweep of the entire village to identify property maintenance violations. But instead of sending official notices of violation — which can lead directly to a citation — Byrne left door-hangers identifying the problems and giving homeowners time to correct them.
“It’s a courtesy note,” said Byrne of the door hangers, “kind of a reminder. Most people comply, and it’s a quicker, gentler approach.”
However, once Byrne has completed her survey of the village, which is almost complete, she’ll return to make sure the problems have been resolved. If not, a notice of violation will follow and, after that, a citation.
“I think you’ll see more citations issued,” said Byrne, who also serves as code enforcement officer for the village of North Riverside.
Riverside has been reluctant to issue citations in the past — maybe a dozen a year, according to Bob Caraher, who is director of community development in Riverside.
One of the reasons citations are so few and far between is that anyone cited by the village for blight must receive a hearing at the Maybrook courthouse, which can be a very time consuming, inconvenient process.
Cases are often continued for months, during which time the property owner does not have to address the blight issue. And if the court decides to throw out the case, the village often simply writes another citation and starts the process over.
“That’s because there’s still a code violation and, one way or another, it’s got to be dealt with,” Caraher said. “The hope is these cases will move a lot quicker once we move it inside here.”
In addition, if there are egregious cases resulting in fines, the circuit court collects the lion’s share of those dollars. But the money isn’t what the village is after, Caraher said.
“We’re seeking resolution, not penalties,” he said.
In Riverside, the adjudicator hears cases on the third Thursday of every month. Scalera said Byrne is working out logistics with the police department to ensure property maintenance cases get heard first, giving all sides time to present their sides. A decision is usually rendered the same night.
In her experience, said Byrne, bringing property maintenance cases to a local adjudicator is a “win-win.”
Municipalities get cases in front of a hearing officer sooner, which tends to solve issues quicker, which makes building department employees and the neighbors of problem properties happy.
Those cited, meanwhile, don’t have to trek to Maybrook at 1:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon to get a hearing and they’re not brushed aside once they get here.
“I actually like adjudication better,” said Byrne. “You have more time to present a case, and the violator has more opportunity to present a defense. A lot of people like that they’re being heard. They don’t get that at a Maybrook court hearing.
“The [local] hearing officer is more sensitive to the cases in front of them.”