By Bob Uphues
The village of Riverside is hoping a new law, passed unanimously by trustees on May 7, will help them force the owners and managers of properties identified as nuisances to fix those problems or face consequences.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said he worked for months with Village Attorney Michael Marrs and Village Manager Jessica Frances on the language of the "chronic nuisance" ordinance as a way to put some teeth into demands from the village that the owners and managers of problem properties clean up their act.
Weitzel said he had no specific property in mind when he came up with the idea, but the law itself would include any property in Riverside, from large apartment complexes where police most often encounter these kinds of chronic problems, to condo buildings, rental homes and even owner-occupied single-family homes.
"I wanted to propose an ordinance that would allow us to mitigate mostly police-related problems, but there are other issues included in this ordinance, of repeated calls for police service or going to properties over and over again where the situation was not being improved when we asked for compliance," Weitzel told trustees at their May 7 meeting.
While nuisances defined in the new law certainly include criminal activity, they also include a wide array of other things, including noise complaints as well as building code, fire code and health code violations.
The law states a chronic nuisance can be declared when a particular property has been written up for two or more violations within a 12-month period. By naming property owners and/or property managers personally responsible for fixing problems, Weitzel is hoping they'll address problems without being dragged to court.
"We don't want to take people to court," Weitzel told the Landmark in a phone interview. "I want people to come into compliance, but I needed an ordinance to back me up."
Weitzel said he has distributed the ordinance to his officers and has issued guidance on how to apply it. He said it is not going to be applied retroactively; rather, he said his approach will be to view properties as "a clean slate."
Officers responding to nuisance calls are to record the exact address, including the unit number if it's in a multiunit building, and the name of the resident. If there's a need to contact the property owner or manager in the case of repeated incidents, Weitzel said having as much specific info as possible will help him build a case for making a complaint.
The ordinance states that the first step will be a letter, which will give the property owner or manager 10 days to respond and propose corrective action. Failure to respond or failure to follow through with the corrective action will trigger a second letter.
If the problem continues to be ignored, Weitzel said he would then work with the village's legal counsel to issue citations that can be dealt with either by the local adjudicator or Cook County Circuit Court.
Fines can range between $500 and $750 per day if the nuisances aren't abated. The village can then also ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order, according to the ordinance, to prohibit use of the property for up to a year, begin eviction proceedings against tenants involved in repeated illegal activity and to place the property in receivership, among other remedies.
At the May 7 meeting, Village Attorney Lance Malina said the ordinance specifically includes property managers as responsible parties, in addition to property owners, to strengthen the village's ability to enforce the law.
"This is an important aspect of these kinds of ordinances, because many times owners hide behind managers, who can't be held legally responsible," Malina said. "If the owner is in California or something, that citation can be issued to the manager, who would be responsible for any fine. And so, it allows for greater holding of account of the people responsible of creating the nuisance, in fact."