The city could shutter rental properties whose landlords ignore orders to make them “livable” under a new ordinance the city’s police chief is crafting.
Every rental unit would be registered with the city and subject to regular inspections, regardless of whether the city receives a complaint about a property, under the law that Chief John Dossey plans to propose.
Enforcement of an existing law aimed at “chronic nuisance” properties — so-called drug houses are an example — also would expand to cover owner-occupied homes as well as rental units. They also could be ordered closed to their dwellers.
Those are “extreme examples,” Dossey said Friday, but they’re among the “new teeth” that he wants to add to the city’s laws designed to ensure that rental units are in “livable condition” and crime doesn’t thrive behind any closed doors.
“The intent is to correct the problems” and not punish property owners who cause them, said City Manager Tony Carson. “They’ll have ample time to comply” with the new and revised laws.
Sometime this fall, the City Council will hear Dossey’s request for a new Rental Residential Housing Code that will shift rental housing inspections from complaint driven to regularly scheduled.
He’ll also ask the council to make the Chronic Nuisance chapter of the city’s Crime Free Housing ordinance a separate law, with literally every building in the city subject to its enforcement.
Pekin will join at least several other Illinois communities using those tools to target decaying housing stock and crime hot spots, Dossey said. Among them is Hanover Park, the Chicago suburb where Dossey built his police career before he became Pekin’s police chief two years ago.
The changes “are still in draft stage,” he said. Since early this year he’s worked with Carson, the city’s Building Inspections and Development Department, the Fire Department and rental property owners to prepare them for the council by the year’s end.
Pekin has an estimated 2,500 rental units on 1,600 properties. Each unit would be registered with the city, with landlords charged a “flat rate” licensing fee ranging from one to five properties to 96 to 100 and beyond, Dossey said. The fees have not yet been set.
Carson said the regular housing inspections won’t require an increase of the city’s current four inspectors and code enforcement officers. Not every unit would be inspected annually.
“About 20 percent would be looked at” each year, said John Lebegue, who directs the inspections department. “If they pass, they’d go to a two-year cycle. If they don’t, they’d be inspected annually” to make sure repair and improvement orders are obeyed.
Failure to comply would bring fines ranging to $750 for each violation and, if a landlord requested one, a hearing before the city’s ordinance violation officer.
A similar process would involve chronic nuisance properties, Dossey said. It would be “sped up,” however, to enforce compliance in the civil cases, separate from criminal prosecution for crimes committed on the properties, he said.
Currently, every fifth incident that prompts police response to a property over one year “triggers a hearing and fine” under the ordinance, he said. The revised law would prompt a letter warning the homeowner of a possible “nuisance” designation after the first incident. A second one within six months would produce a summons to appear in the city’s civil court and a possible fine, Dossey said.
He has scheduled meetings with landlords on Sept. 11 and Sept. 14 to discuss the proposed changes. Dossey said he’ll also “make a public presentation for the wider public” before the changes go to the council.
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