The Tower Apartments, at Forest and East avenues, in downtown Riverside. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

Riverside trustees are expected to vote April 15 to require the owners of rental properties to register those properties with the village annually and submit to dwelling unit inspections every three years or when tenancy turns over.

The move comes two months after the village went to court to force inspection of the building and dwelling units at the Tower Apartments, whose tenants were left without regular heat for more than a week during the coldest temperatures of the winter.

In addition to multiunit apartment buildings, the law would also cover single-family homes and condominiums whose owners are renting those units.

By creating the registry and providing for a mechanism for regular unit inspections, Riverside officials hope to prevent the kind of widespread maintenance and code violations they encountered when they were allowed, through a court order, to inspect the Tower Apartments in February and March.

Those inspections revealed that many units lacked working smoke detectors, unsafe exterior rear porches and stairwells, rotten window and door framing, unglazed windows, crumbling plaster, partially collapsed ceilings and resident complaints of rodent and pest infestations.

“Really the goal through all of this was to make sure we provide protection for new residents, new tenants who are coming in, so we can assure them that they are moving into an apartment that has met all of the relevant public safety [codes],” said Village President Ben Sells during a discussion of the registry and inspection process at the village board’s April 1 meeting, which was held virtually due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Village Attorney Lance Malina was asked to tweak some of the proposed language in order to ensure inspection requirements aren’t onerous for building owners and still ensure the village can inspect dwelling units during the time between old tenants moving out and new ones moving in.

Trustee Doug Pollock also said he wanted to make sure the village recouped the cost of administering such a program, which may at times involve reinspections and will require village staff to maintain records for the roughly 715 rental units identified in Riverside.

Pollock also suggested that rental property owners pay an annual fee to have their properties licensed, like a regular business, but Malina cautioned about making the new registry requirement a revenue producer for the village.

Riverside is a non-home rule community and there are limits on its ability to charge such fees, Malina said.

As presented last week, the ordinance would require, at no cost to the property owner, annual registration of the property, along with the names, addresses and contact information of each owner and property manager. 

The village will require knowing the number of rental units within a building, a 24-hour emergency contact number, an address to which violation notices or citations can be delivered and the total square footage of living spaces.

Inspections would be done on a three-year cycle, probably in three geographic zones, with the first beginning in 2022, However, if a unit becomes vacant, the ordinance requires the owner to inform the village, allow for inspection of that unit and obtain a rental certificate before it can be occupied again.

The draft ordinance contemplated a $50 fee for each apartment and rental house inspection, with a $25 reinspection fee and a $50 fee for subsequent reinspections. Those figures could change, however, if the village finds the cost to do the inspections and maintain those records is more than such a fee schedule would recover.

Violating the ordinance could result in a building owner being fined between $150 and $750 a day for each offense.