Riverside Township Hall

The owners of any multifamily rental property of three or more units in Riverside will be required to register those properties, and provide tenant contact information, with the village on an annual basis beginning in 2022.

Riverside trustees on Aug. 19 voted 5-0 to create the rental registry, capping a five-month process initiated by former Village President Ben Sells in the wake of the tenants of a large downtown apartment building being left without reliable heat for more than a week during the coldest days of last winter when the building’s central heating plant failed.

In its earlier drafts, the ordinance covered all rental properties, including single-family homes and two-flats, and had inspection requirements that many landlords and some trustees considered onerous.

Through the months, village officials gathered input from landlords and tweaked the ordinance to arrive at a place that both sides were OK with. At the Aug. 19 meeting, there were no local landlords in attendance and, apart from some technical changes to the language, the ordinance passed without comment.

“Everyone had an opportunity to speak,” said Village President Joseph Ballerine following the meeting. “I think our landlords have rights we need to respect, and the goal of this ordinance was to respect them while giving protection to renters.”

The registry also creates a rolling building/unit inspection requirement. Every rental unit in the village must undergo inspection once during a three-year period with no less than 20 percent of any building being inspected annually.

During the first three years, property owners can either allow village staff to conduct those inspections or provide reports conducted by an independent professional inspector who must utilize a village-supplied checklist.

The initial self-inspection option will be allowed only if the building had no code violations or issues in the prior 12 months.

After the first three years of the program, landlords will be afforded the option to self-certify inspection of units, without using a professional inspector, in any given year as long as the building had no code violations or other issues during the prior 12 months. Those landlords who are able to self-certify inspections will also be entitled to a reduced inspection fee.

It will cost landlords $15 annually to register their buildings, with a late fee of $5 per month for failing to do so. If village staff are used to inspect units, landlords will be charged $55 per unit. If there’s a need to re-inspect any unit, that will cost an additional $55.

Landlords who qualify for self-certification and those allowed to hired their own inspectors during the first three years of the program will pay a reduced unit inspection fee of $15 per unit.

While it’s not part of the rental registry ordinance passed by the village board on Aug. 19, the village is also planning to bolster annual fire inspections of multifamily building common areas by adding a village code inspector to that process.

In addition to common hallways and interior and exterior stairwells, the inspectors will be able to get into mechanical rooms to inspect those spaces as well. That way, the village can spot problems like deteriorating outdoor wooden stairs, landings and railings and perhaps head off catastrophic system failures like the one that left tenants at the Tower Apartments without heat in February.

A critical part of creating the registry is obtaining contact information about renters so the village has ways of directly contacting them and providing them with information. The village is also looking to create ways for renters to contact them directly and anonymously when there are issues in rental buildings.

That could be either by email or by creating a button on the Riverside Responds app, which is monitored by village staff to flag issues throughout the village.

Village Manager Jessica Frances told trustees at the Aug. 19 meeting that her staff was already working on the tenant outreach piece, including information sheets in both English and Spanish that can be inserted into new resident packets or mass mailings to renters, based on the new info available in the rental registry. The village could also work with Riverside TV to produce informational segments directed at renters that can be aired on that channel.

“We have good landlords for the most part. The goal is to have all of our landlords be good landlords,” said Ballerine. “If this gives incentives for people to do that, it makes sense. For a community with limited resources, this is a win-win.”