Owners of rental properties in Riverside are pushing back against a proposed program that would require them to pay to register every rental unit annually and open properties and units up for inspection every three years.
Several property owners appeared at the village board’s June 17 meeting, where an ordinance establishing the registry was tentatively up for a vote, but Village President Joseph Ballerine announced immediately that trustees would take no action as the village sought to get more input from both rental property owners and others in the community.
“We are still collecting your feedback,” Ballerine said. We have a number of emails that have come in and I’ve asked the manager [Jessica Frances] that any emails that come in to distribute to the board. The board will continue to review these emails and we will have a conversation with staff on the feedback you give.”
He said the village board first discussed the creation of a rental registry at their April 1 meeting, prior to Ballerine’s election as president. While officials say it is not intended to single out any particular landlords or properties, it surfaced in the wake of a situation in February where both commercial and residential tenants at the Tower Apartments in downtown Riverside were without reliable heat for more than a week.
After the building management failed to act immediately, the village filed suit to force the building’s ownership to replace the failed heating plant and submit the entire building to village inspection, including individual units. During its inspections in February and March the village noted numerous code violations, particularly a lack of working smoke detectors in many units.
“Really the goal through all of this was to make sure we provide protection for the 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],” then-President Ben Sells said back in April.
But, property owners who spoke at the village board’s June 17 meeting chafed at the burden and cost of registering their buildings and having to submit to regular inspections.
Marian Pierog, who owns a rental property on Lincoln Avenue, called the proposal “a terrible inconvenience,” while W. Robert Demitro, who also owns multifamily property in Riverside, said it was unfair to impose registry and inspection requirements on every landlord, most of whom take care of their properties and ensure tenant safety.
“I know you have problems with certain properties in town,” Demitro said. “This ordinance in my opinion should be geared toward the properties you’re having problems with.”
He also said that the fees the village intends to charge to administer the program was unfair to renters, to whom landlords would pass along the cost.
“Just go after the ones you’re having a problem with,” Demitro said.
Dale Yates, who owns a two-flat on Groveland Avenue, called the proposed rental registry “group punishment” and suggested that the village require rental property owners to buy and sign a business license that includes language pledging landlords must maintain their properties and ensure the safety and well-being of their tenants.
“The bottom line is you’re going to have to go to court anyway when something happens, so let them sign off on it,” Yates said.
As for the registry with its fees, annual registration requirements and inspections, Yates said, “I don’t think you have to punish people who take care of their property. I think most people in town take great pride in their property.”
The village as of last week had also received email comments from nine other landlords, seven of whom opposed the registry entirely with one supporting it and another supporting it with reservations.
Among the suggestions was to tailor any registry/inspection program to suit the different types of rental properties. The village has few large multifamily buildings, and those are where most of the issues are reported. Most of the smaller rental properties likely generate far fewer complaints, wrote Riverside attorney Craig Lustoff.
Thomas Weaver, of Riverside Property Management, suggested using incentives, such as reducing fees, if properties score highly on inspections. He also suggested the village look at Oak Park’s ordinance, which he called “a very good industry standard on the subject.”
Marie Hayes, who owns a Groveland Avenue two-flat, suggested that if a problem property includes Section 8 housing that the village examine the role of federal Section 8 inspectors and hold them and landlords accountable and avoid duplicating efforts.