The owners of North Riverside rental properties – from single-family homes to large multifamily apartment complexes – now must register those buildings with the village and submit them to code inspections annually after action by elected officials last week.

On March 7, North Riverside trustees voted 5 to 1 to approve the registry and inspection program. Trustee Marybelle Mandel cast the lone vote against the ordinance.

“The goal for us has always been to complement our code enforcement authority,” said Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti. “This board has asked staff to beef up code enforcement efforts in the community to make sure property owners are more responsible in maintaining the outside and inside of their properties. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

The ordinance requires landlords to register their properties annually for a fee based on the number of dwelling units. The annual fee to register a building of between one and four units is $150, with buildings of five or more units being charged a $250 fee. When there’s a change in tenants for single-family rental homes, the village will charge a $25 registration change fee.

All landlords are required to provide landlord/property management contact information in the event the village is notified of a complaint at a rental property. Scarpiniti said the village also will compile tenant contact information annually from landlords.

North Riverside officials in particular want to get a firm hold on just how many single-family homes are being rented in the village. Last fall, Scarpiniti estimated that there were more than 100 such properties scattered around the village.

Landlords are required by the ordinance to allow a village inspector to assess the “health and safety” of rental buildings, including individual dwelling units upon village request.

If a tenant or landlord refuses a village inspector entry, the ordinance authorizes the village administrator to seek a warrant in Cook County Circuit Court to enter the premises and conduct inspections.

The ordinance also lays out occupancy limits for dwellings based on the number of bedrooms. Studio apartments are allowed one person while four-bedroom apartments are allowed up to eight people.

The village will charge $100 per inspection, according to the ordinance, with a $150 first re-inspection fee, if required. Any subsequent re-inspection will cost $250. Landlords found to be in violation of the rental registry could face fines of up to $500 or up to six months imprisonment for each offense.

Scarpiniti said a letter informing rental property owners of the registry will go out soon and that the village hoped to have a list of rental properties completed by mid-2022. The registration/inspection process would begin in earnest Jan. 1, 2023 as part of the village’s business license renewal effort.

In voting against the ordinance, Mandel said she objected to the fact that the village did not seek public input from landlords before drafting the ordinance. Mandel in an email to the Landmark said those supporting the rental registry provided no proof such a registry was necessary, failed to show what good would come of the registry and questioned the law’s constitutionality.

“This ordinance is begging for lawsuits,” said Mandel, who added, “We need answers before we move forward with this matter. This ordinance looks very discriminatory.”

Asked in an email from the Landmark what specifically was discriminatory about the North Riverside ordinance, Mandel responded, “Charging property owners registration fees, license fees and numerous inspection fees (for no apparent reason) is only a ‘money-grab’ by the current village administration. The ordinance discriminates against certain property owners. Also, since renters generally have lower incomes or are younger with children, the ordinance will negatively impact lower income individuals and children; discriminating against them.”

Rental registries are not uncommon in Illinois – Riverside launched one this year — and legislation was introduced in January by state Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., whose 21st District includes Riverside south of the BNSF tracks, that would create a state registry of all rental units in Illinois.

An internet search did not show any widespread challenges to rental registries in Illinois. In September 2021, however, an Illinois law firm published an update on a 2019 federal civil lawsuit where two tenants challenged the city of Zion’s rental inspection requirement, which also contained a provision for a warrant if not complied with.

The city sought a dismissal of the complaint, but a federal judge denied that motion. The case is still pending in U.S. District Court.

Mayor Joseph Mengoni dismissed Mandel’s concerns about the ordinance being discriminatory.

“There are no challenges that our attorney has made us aware of,” Mengoni said. “We’re not telling who they can and can’t rent to. This is for inspecting properties and making sure they’re habitable and safe to live in.”

The village board first considered the rental registry ordinance at a committee meeting last October, and a draft of the ordinance was distributed to elected officials for their review in February, said Scarpiniti.

Trustee Terri Sarro, who chairs the village board’s administrative committee, publicly summarized the rental registry ordinance during a first reading of the legislation at the village board’s Feb. 7 meeting. No concerns about the draft ordinance were mentioned at that time.