Riverside landlords say that the village’s proposed registry for all rental properties would be not only burdensome but unfair to the majority of owners who do everything they can to maintain their properties and ensure tenants’ safety and well-being.
They also question the village’s capacity to administer such a program, given the current transition underway in the building department, which remains understaffed after a string of departures earlier this year.
But, we’re not ready to suggest chloroforming the proposal just yet. Yes, the details still need to be refined and perhaps include ways to make it easier for responsible landlords to get breaks on registry fees or inspection requirements.
Many landlords feel the village is overstepping its bounds and punishing them for the sins of a few. That’s understandable. However, the past winter demonstrated the need for some sort of mechanism that ensures the village can guarantee renters in Riverside don’t become collateral damage when landlords fail to live up to their duties.
During the discussion of the rental registry at the June 17 village board meeting, landlords had plenty to say about how they would be impacted. As for the tenants, the most specific impact to them of a rental registry would be to have the costs of it passed on to them.
This is where we see the need for programs such as this one. There has to be someone outside of the landlord-renter relationship to make sure the tenant is looked after. Many renters in Riverside are among its most vulnerable residents. Stuck with a bad or vindictive landlord, they may be scared to raise too much of a ruckus for fear of being targeted for either harassment or even worse treatment.
Most tenants, like most landlords, are doing their best to keep up their ends of the bargain. But the power weighs heavily in favor of landlords. Some use that power to make their tenants’ lives better. Some exploit their tenants, taking their money and leaving buildings in disrepair.
When the heat for an entire large apartment building is on the fritz for more than a week in the middle of the coldest weather of the year, that’s a public health hazard. It shouldn’t take that kind of event to have the village ensure things don’t get to that point in the first place.
But private property rights are strong in this country and small towns like Riverside have few tools at their disposal other than engaging in expensive and drawn out litigation against landlords with deep pockets who know the consequences are likely to be fairly mild. The cost-benefit analysis probably works out fine.
So, some way to get the village inside buildings on a regular basis to verify conditions are being maintained still seems like a good idea to us. This isn’t a new concept, and while it may result in some inconvenience to landlords, let’s keep an eye on the ball of who we’re trying to protect here.