The Tower Apartments, 22-42 East Ave. and 25-39 Forest Ave., Riverside (Bob Uphues/Editor)

Three Riverside trustees pushed back last week on a proposed ordinance that would create a registry for every rental property and unit in the village and require those properties, including 20 percent of individual units in apartment buildings, to be inspected by the building department every three years.

Trustees Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga, Megan Claucherty and Alex Gallegos said the latest draft of the proposed rental registry placed too much burden on rental property owners, who by and large maintain their buildings and provide their tenants safe places to live.

While trustees appeared to all agree that the registry idea was valuable as a way to compile essential emergency contact information, they wondered if the universal triennial inspection requirement was too broadly conceived.

Marsh-Ozga and Gallegos called the proposed law “overkill,” particularly considering owner-occupied rental properties where those owners may have a greater stake in ensuring careful maintenance or who may even have their buildings inspected regularly to catch issues before they become hazards.

“Maybe owner-occupation is an issue we can look at,” Marsh-Ozga said during a discussion of the rental registry at the village board’s July 15 meeting. “I don’t know what the best way is to draw the line right now, but my instinct is that we’re trying to do too much with this particular draft.”

Claucherty called the latest draft “over broad,” and worried that the cost for individual unit registration would simply be passed on to tenants. She asked whether the village’s staff had the capacity to manage such a detailed annual registry process as well as a regular schedule of building inspections.

She also agreed that perhaps the village might deal with smaller rental properties or owner-occupied rental properties differently than larger buildings in order “to tailor this more closely to our goals and to the risks that we’re trying to cure for.”

The idea of the rental registry came to the village board table in April, two months after the village sought a court-order to inspect residential units at the Tower Apartments in downtown Riverside following the failure of that building’s heating plant during a cold snap that left both residential and commercial tenants without central heat for about a week.

Village inspectors were eventually able to access residential units via court order and observed a laundry list of safety violations, particularly a lack of working smoke alarms. The building, which is owned by a real estate trust, has been flagged numerous times over the years for property maintenance violations.

Last year, the owner and the property management firm of the Tower Apartments agreed to pay $950,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a 70-year-old tenant who fell to his death in September 2018 when a wooden handrail gave way as he painted a rear stairwell.

While those cases have not been specifically mentioned as the motivation behind the village’s effort to create a rental registry, other landlords who have criticized the initiative have complained they are being singled out when the problem is limited to the owners of a few larger apartment buildings in the village.

Village President Joseph Ballerine suggested that the village beef up the fire department’s annual fire inspections of commercial and multifamily buildings by having a village property inspector tag along to make sure common areas comply with building codes.

“Where are our problems? And then when we know where our problems are, we can target the ordinance to address the problems that we have,” Ballerine said.

Trustee Edward Hannon urged the village to maintain unit inspections in the ordinance, saying that only inspecting common areas leaves too much out. He also was particularly concerned about making sure single-family homes being rented out are up to code.

“It only takes one fire where there’s not adequate egress,” Hannon said.

One possible compromise on the unit inspection issue is to allow property owners to self-certify that they have had their properties inspected and comply with village codes.

By certifying as part of the annual registration process that a property complies, owners would be guilty of violating the village code if officials later determined a property had not been inspected or made code compliant, according to Village Attorney Lance Malina.