RIP Thread

Regarding the proposed, controversial Rental Inspection Program (RIP), I have obtained materials available at the website of the Tenants, Landowners, Community Rights Group (TLC), have talked with a couple landlords and have read about voluntary inspection programs in other college towns (such as here and here.)

While not necessarily opposed to a rental inspection program, I do think we should at least consider a voluntary model first. I also am inclined to think that a RIP predicated, as this one so obviously is, more on motivations of revenue enhancement than of community enhancement is doomed to be a big fat failure and a searing indictment of the way the city does business.

Also, nobody has really explained what is so lacking in Chapters 10 (Tenant-Landlord), 12 (Nuisance) and 13 (Building Codes)–besides draconian fines, that is–that we can’t possibly enforce what’s already on the books. Let’s have some thorough public hearings on the current state of code enforcement to find the real holes that need mending.

26 thoughts on “RIP Thread”

  1. Thanks for putting this up and thanks for posting an even-handed look at the issue. As a homeowner in the area that is probably most affected by this — I honestly care most about the nuisance stuff, and I want it either enforced or turned into something enforcable. And I do want property owners held responsible when their property becomes a consistent problem. I understand and agree with property owners on the issues that are being brought up here, but I can’t help but think that many of them just really only care about being left alone and making money and are happy to stand behind the curtain of home rule/privacy laws because it is convenient to their true cause — maintaining the current system of being left alone with their property becomes a nuisance to those who live here.

  2. I think the biggest complaints against tenants are for noise, cars parked in the grass, and too many people living in one place. If I remember correctly, the fine for noise (operating a sound device or some such wording) is only $100. That is not enough of a deterrent to prevent a group of people to have a loud party. What might raising that to $300 do? How about tacking on keeping a disorderly house and making that fine stiff, too? Would people be less likely to blare music if they knew the fine would be more money? I know people watch their speeding more in construction zones because they know the traffic tickets cost more.

    For cars parked in the grass, there should be tickets for that. How about $80 for parking on the grass? If a homeowner, etc. has a legitimate reason for parking something on the grass on their own property, fine; allow him or her to apply for a permit and pay for it. I really do not care if someone has an RV or boat parked in the grass by the side of their house and would care even less if they had to pay $30 or so for a permit to do that. For the too many cars in one place on the street problem, I know there were problems with parking along Normal Road near the university. The city came in and painted in parking spaces in the street. That took care of the problem of too many cars in the street within 24 hours and students stopped blocking people’s driveways through carelessness.

    The voluntary inspection those other cities have sounds ideal. The problem with the RIP as proposed is that it lumps all renters and landlords into one big pile and treats them all like offenders. Not all renters are loud and obnoxious and not all landlords are slum lords. Some landlords at big complexes have their own repair staff who are there all the time, live-in managers, and 24/7 phone services for complaints about noise and broken toilets. Those renters are already paying to have all those staff people around and an inspection program would make them pay twice for repairs and noise control already taking place. I think many of the problem properties are where there are absentee landlords with smaller buildings, rental houses, duplexes, and/or rooming houses without on-site staff. The landlord may live in another city, and may have no idea what is happening with their property. Of course, there may be some who do not care about their properties, too.

    For too many people living in one place, send a message out to the neighbors that if they see something, say something. The neighbors know when the school bus shows up in the morning and twenty kids all file out of a small building with renters that the building is overcrowded. That is an issue where finding out how code enforcement gets implemented would be very helpful.

    I have more to say but I am too tired for now.

  3. Welcome, Mr. Freeman. Let us know if you will what the specific nuisances are that you are dealing with.

    Noise is in Chapter 52. I guess the parking on the grass thing isn’t addressed anywhere yet? The new ordinance covers what I guess are felonies already. When it comes to too many people living in a house, I know of neighbors who don’t say anything but I also know of people who have complained and nothing happens. Then there are plenty of stories out there from landlords who get the book thrown at them for the slightest thing. So on the one hand you have 30 people living in a regular old house and all sorts of problems with the sanitary sewers and no penalties, while somebody else pays a fine for having one weed in the yard. That’s why I think we need to investigate enforcement.

    Just remembered something. When I was a kid I had a neighbor who lived about a block away who would toss her baby’s used disposable diapers out the back door. They were the only people in the neighborhood I wouldn’t babysit for.

  4. How about a $500 fine for mowing lawns?loud obnoxious polluters..

    while were at it a $500 for gardening.. I dont want to have to look at till’d up soil, dirt and mud.. if I did I would move to the country.

    speaking of the country.. thats where animals should be.. $500 for anyone with a dog or cat… both animals are bloody nuisance.. stinky loud and many are downright ugly.sure.. YOU might think its cute and cuddly.. but to me they are a nuisance.cats get out and kill birds that keep our mosquito population down.. dogs.. well they stink (Non Dog Owners KNOW who owns a dog in the neighborhood) they bark and they bother me.-o we should make them part of the nuisance ordinance!

    another nuisance is kids, freaken brats making noise and ruckus..
    especially the ones with instruments like in this video of Amanda Nelson’s Garage band @ http://www.bigdekalb.com..
    little nuisances all of them..

    I think Im going to crack open a PBR , throw a party and blast some Pantera.. even if its only 9.30 am..
    its fun being a nuisance..

  5. edit..
    that is http://www.bigdekalb.com to watch Amanda Nelson and her Garage Band Orchestra.You know.. under the law her little garage rehearsals and concerts are a nuisance.It just takes one grump to destroy something, its no different with any of the other stuff-its all perception, tatstes and opinion.

    that Native grass and flowers in your yard.. WEEDS!!
    That nice Violin orchestra of kids in your garage Hooligans and clatter!!

  6. That’s great Chadwick. Seriously, that really helps. Good to know I’m being a grump when they’re a party next door with 30 drunken kids yelling and screaming in their yard, MY HOUSE is shaking due to the bass from the stereo and they’re all throwing garbage, or simply throwing up in my yard. Have I mentiond that it’s 3 a.m. on a Thursday yet? You’re right, I should just put up with it. What a downer I am.

    There’s part of the problem right there, that basically you think you should do whatever you want. That shows utter selfishness and a lack of respect for anyone, including yourself.

    P.S. — I’ve lived next to a band and I never called the cops. Why? Because we worked things out and did NOT have the attitude that you have right now.

  7. Mr. Chadwick would/will have to speak for himself, of course, but I’m taking it as snark, perhaps based on how poorly written (as in too broad, too vague) the proposed nuisance ordinance is, and how such a thing could be abused.

    But the fact is, some of us have lived or do now live next to “neighbors from hell.” I’ve had some doozies but not lately, so will go immediately to find some wood to knock.

  8. Gordon,
    The problem is that its difficult in a city like to DeKalb to create a blank model for “nuisances”.This town really is a microcosm of Chicago in the sense that we are a town of patchwork neighborhoods that are a little bit different then each other.

    What is a nuisance on one block isnt the same somewhere else.This nuisance law is so broad that it becomes open to interpretation on just what is a nuisance-or more like what the city is willing to look at as a nuisance.
    Heck, I would wager if you polled the residents of John street you would get an overwhelming majority that would declare any noise before noon on the weekends a nuisance.I would also wager in certain newer subdivisions anything other then finely trimmed bermuda would be seen as a nuisance.. so should skillful gardeners like Kay and Lynn be written up for planting a potpourri and eclectic combination of plants?

    I think in some neighborhoods the cops should be tough on latenight parties, and you know for the most part they are.They do in fact right regular tickets for “disorderly house” , even in the College/John area throwing a party is a risk for a ticket.

    But the truth of the matter is that the parties are NOT the focus of this ordinance.The focus is to target renters,homeowners and business owners they deem as “undesirables” and they will go after them with this ordinance.Its to broad for interpretation and is ripe for serious civil rights abuse and FHA violations.

  9. Chadwick. I lived in the city for 20 years before moving here last year. And I lived in ‘active’ neighborhoods like Wrigleyville, Roscoe Village, Bucktown and Wicker Park. For whatever reason, I’ve never had any problems in those 20 years like I had this year with the renters in the house next to us who thankfully are now gone. I found generally the police response with these problems to be highly inadequate, I almost feel like I won the lotto when one officer finally wrote them a ticket a couple of months ago. And I know it’s not me. I called the police on them, the neighbord on the other side did, the renter who rents out a seperate unit in the house did, and on multiple occasions, people from inside the house called on the one or two problem folks. I’m not here to debate the objectivity or subjectivity of what a nusiance is, I don’t think there is any definition whatsoever under any circumstances that would say that this has was not a nusiance and I want a code of some sort to be enforced, and I also do think that the owner of the home should be forced to take some responsibilities for how what is happening on their property is affecting those who live around it.

  10. No matter what merits this proposal will ultimately have, the events leading up to this essentially disqualify it from any serious consideration.

    First we had the union come up with this idea during private labor negotiations as a revenue-generation program (not a public safety one). Then there was this hiring shell game with Det. Kayes. Then the budget allocations without a program to support them. Now we will get a sob story about how if we don’t allow warrantless raids on our homes, that these poor poor inspectors will need to be laid off (think of their families! children!). The wheels are greased. The game is rigged.

    Our aldermen are being blindly led into an ambush and most of them are so clueless about this that they will actually be surprised when the city is facing dozens of lawsuits as a result of this.

  11. Anon nails it:

    No matter what merits this proposal will ultimately have, the events leading up to this essentially disqualify it from any serious consideration.

    This particular proposal is poisoned and will die, but the matter itself should not be dropped.

  12. Multiple Choice Test: PARTICIPATION IS MANDATORY. YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. IT IS McORDAINED.

    Who or What is a Chronic Nuisance?
    a. A loud neighbor who refuses to respect your need for quiet time?
    b. A messy neighbor who refuses to take proper care of their property?
    c. A rude neighbor who thrives on being the center of attention and gets to because they are so rude, so often.
    d. A pesky neighbor who calls once or twice a week to complain?
    e. all of the above
    f. (at Council and Staff request)… Mac McIntyre

    Subliminally speaking, I sure hope none of you scored an ‘F’ on my unbiased survey. :-)

    Those who would write such an ordinance would serve well to be very deliberate in their findings and defining of what is a nuisance and when it becomes a nuisance. They should also think around how to prevent it from being abused.

    There’s been a pattern developing at 200 S Fourth Street. Someone discovers a leaky faucet and next thing you know there’s a mountain of back-up material supporting recommendations to replace everything in the sink on the agenda. How much staff times does that take? Enough to be the reason we’ve had a moratorium on redevelopment because studies are not yet complete?

    Sometimes less is more.

  13. I can sympathize with Mr. Freeman’s problems with student revelers. I used to live over on Gurler Street where such nuisances were all too common. Calling the police was generally a waste of time and effort. I recall one party where the party goers were cutting down a tree in the back yard with chain saws at 3 A.M. to have more wood for the bonfire. At about 5:30, the cops finally showed up and sent them home. This was the same neighborhood where a woman was raped, murdered, and dumped in Seldal’s old parking lot after a party. One would think that the police might want to be more observant and responsive after something like that happened in a given neighborhood, but you would be wrong. Chadwick’s concerns about the wide variances in neighborhood norms caused by our celebration of a rich tapestry of diversity could be readily accommodated by relying on a complaint based dispatching system. The problem is that for the most part, for the more than 30 years I have lived here, complaining did little in the way of results. As Yinn has pointed out, most of the real problems are already covered well in the city code. It is a matter of enforcement. You wind up with a vicious circle. The aggrieved neighbors are afraid to call because they fear retaliation from those causing the disturbances, or because they do not want to sign a complaint, which are essentially related excuses. They also do not believe that the enforcement will be effective. When Donna Gorski and I were trying to organize neighborhood groups back in Mayor Bessie’s administration, we kept running into people who firmly believed that they were being ignored by city hall. Perhaps as a tentative solution, Chief Feithen could expand his existing community policing and neighborhood watch activities with sufficient support to make people realize that their concerns were being taken seriously and enforcement of existing ordinances about nuisances was going to be dramatically increased.

  14. Hey Steve, were you around during the 1980s (I think) when there are stories about neighborhood watches getting shut down for a while because people got too carried away with them? Those are rumors I heard. I do not have all of the facts.

    I do have an informal listserv for crime topics at: ward3citizensaction[at]yahoo.com. I mostly point out stories in the news and pass on any information that I get. I am trying to line up a speaker on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), something that is done almost never around here. The laundry mat on the corner of Pleasant and N. 14th that used to be a dentist office, though, is an excellent example.

    OK, I got off the subject. For the McSurvey, my answer is:

    E. All of the Above

  15. Kay, I have been out here for most of the time since the Summer of 1973. I was exiled to the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Marxachusetts for a year and a half (shudder) in 1985-86. I have lived here in Tilton Park since 1987. I do not know what DeKalb was doing with neighborhood watches back then. I was involved with the County Sheriff’s Radio Watch program around that point in time, though.

    Mac, I vote for all of the above on the McSurvey, also. I guess I have not been enough of a pest there on South Fourth. I worked against tearing down the Old Post Office, and I spoke out against the smoking ban. You can see why I don’t go down there much.

  16. Somebody told me about the watches in the 1980s.

    I still miss the Old Post Office. DeKalb is still ‘branded’ as the city that tore it down. People several states away still think of DeKalb’s image as the city that tore down its icon.

  17. Steve said –
    “Perhaps as a tentative solution, Chief Feithen could expand his existing community policing and neighborhood watch activities with sufficient support to make people realize that their concerns were being taken seriously and enforcement of existing ordinances about nuisances was going to be dramatically increased.”

    We don’t have nearly enough police officers to do that on a 24/7 basis. We already are starting to cut it close with responses to emergency calls (the robbery just today in downtown being an example). The police have to prioritize responses to requests, so most non-violent non-weapon-related non-accident calls are going to have to wait a couple hours before anyone arrives. Code enforcement has gone completely off the back of the stove.

    Right now we are stuck in terms of code enforcement. If public works and engineering people are sent to a code enforcement call, chances are good that the agitators are either going to slam the door in their faces or flat out start fighting with them, which then results in them calling for police assistance, which means that we don’t end up taking any of the load off of the police officers.

    That piece in the Sunday Chronicle (although probably written by the FOP) is not an exaggeration. Our police coverage is stalled and may even start declining even as our population and crime rate increases, given the current budget and personnel situation. Having neighborhood watch and citizen groups helps to improve intelligence about what’s going on “on the street” but it does not replace the need for more boots on the ground.

    Maintaining adequate police protection for the community is one of the prime reasons for the city government to even exist in the first place. Its failure to do so is inexcusable.

  18. More than 15 years ago, I worked for one of the apartment complexes and we evicted a couple of tenants for not paying their rent. I am trying to remember all of the details but in one instance, the people knew it was going to happen and they moved all the stuff they wanted out. They left behind three very hungry looking kitties they were not supposed to have in the apartment in the first place and junk. I found homes for the little cats. At the start, there were three sheriff deputies present with two cars in case of trouble. After finding out only the kitties were there, two of them left. One deputy had to be present the entire time we picked up the junk and placed it in the parkway. That took hours, and it was only stuff the tenants did not want.

    Any hopeful resident thinking the bad people will be tossed out fast if the RIP passes, I bet, will be disappointed. I do not recall seeing anything in the back up material about anyone from the city contacting the DeKalb County Sheriff about them having enough officers to pick up an increased work load. I believe they would be involved with serving orders to vacate and be present if tenants do not vacate within the 60 alloted days as proposed and have to be forcibly kicked out.

    Obviously, there are not enough DeKalb Police, according to the Chronicle’s editorial for today:

    http://www.daily-chronicle.com/articles/2008/07/18/opinions/opinions01.txt

    Maybe the DeKalb County is flush with cash and has enough deputies to go around? I doubt it. My bet is down that RIP is just money shuffling, a way of getting more money so the city can burn it elsewhere, and a just a snow job to make it look like the city is doing something.

    The survey left out one other possibility:

    G. RIP is smoke and mirrors for the city to seize property for its redevelopment projects.

  19. I think I might change my screen name to Dangling Modifier…

    Anyone serious about ending the town/gown split in this community must give thought to and help with ending the separatism between NIU and DeKalb police departments. And everyone involved in such an effort must expect things to get far worse before they get any better. Statistically speaking however, DeKalb as an all inclusive community, has more cops per person than most and when police service is broken down to its very basics Public Safety is the common goal and purpose. Having two police forces should not be a liability but an asset. I’d love to see a full televised Public Safety Summit involving City, NIU (and County) law enforcement agencies.

    A major concern of the proposed reinvention of landlord-tenant relations is the language that suggests landlords must take hands-on responsibility for the behavior of their tenants. I see the point and advantages of doing just that, in theory. But in practice I see too much potential for placing unqualified people in precarious positions of Public Safety.

    Brett Brown (Housing Authority) testified about lease language that could prove very effective as an aid to address unrulys. Perhaps more consideration of his suggestions and expertise might be considered.

    And then… plumbing issues have a peer route to solutions through a Plumbing Board. Building has a Building Board… Landlord-Tenant Board?

  20. Mac, the only way to fix the cop problem, which is bigger than you know, would be for Grady to find another job some place else. That guy has a level of stubbornness beyond reason. It is an admirable attempt, but you will have to go higher than the county for a summit. Get the State Police and feds involved. Get the state’s attorney involved, too.

    On the night of February 14th, rumor has it from a reliable source that Grady told anyone not affiliated with the NIU police to get out of Cole Hall. Not even the level of that tragedy could get Grady off his ego horse. Not even that tragedy could compel Grady to play nicely with others who came to help.

    The level of crime on the NIU campus is unknown because Grady did not follow the Cleary Act. Plus, people who should be arrested do not get arrested. If NIU Police could crack down on the few bad students and their bad friends from the cities, overall, DeKalb would be a much safer place.

    You are right about it getting worse before it gets better. Before anything will happen on the NIU end, the town will have to revolt against the gown, big and loud.

    For anyone who thinks Grady is a hero after February 14th, you are entitled to your own opinion, even if not all the facts are known.

  21. I have to agree with the above poster. After all the stunts that Grady pulled after the shooting, it would surprise me if he is even on speaking terms with DPD and the Sheriff’s office. This whole affair is a huge and unnecessary distraction from crime-fighting efforts in the city and particularly in the university area. Here’s hoping that the university will let his contract quietly expire or he decides to retire “to be with his family” or something along those lines. It’s really hard to understate how badly he burned people in what should have been one of our community’s finest moments of unity.

    I don’t know the whole history behind why NIU has its own police department, but I imagine some bad experiences in the 60’s or 70’s probably had something to do with it. Perhaps somebody with more historical knowledge than I can fill in the story there. If the NIUPD were more consistent in actually enforcing the laws then perhaps there wouldn’t be a desire to consolidate them or take them over. Let’s just say their enforcement activities have been less than awe-inspiring.

    I don’t really know what to make of including the State Police in this kind of thing. I have my suspicions that somebody in that agency was responsible for leaking the case report on the shooter to Esquire. It’s difficult for me to tell what their motivations are since I don’t have much contact with them at all. It’s doubtful that the feds would get involved in a local law enforcement summit of any kind to begin with, but the attorneys should be on board.

    Anyway, to get us closer to the topic, it’s unlikely that NIUPD would participate in local code enforcement to begin with since that isn’t under their list of primary responsibilities. I don’t know what the personnel situation in the Sheriff’s office is like, presumably there isn’t a crisis like in DPD since it hasn’t been mentioned. We should not lean on them too much though since they have a much larger mandate and list of responsibilities than DPD does. Ultimately this is a local problem that has to be fixed locally.

    PS. — A strong-arm robbery in broad daylight two blocks away from the police station? That’s pretty high up the list of flagrant crimes IMO. Seems that at least this group of criminals is feeling confident in their ability to get away with it, which is a bad sign.

  22. Not much is going to be done about the crime problem here until someone in authority will brave the accusations of racism and xenophobia and admit that we do really have one, and bluntly describe its nature. Until we come to accurate conclusions about the nature of the problem, everyone seems to want to dance around it. It will take a coordinated effort between the public, the city and university administrations, and the public safety agencies which now seem to be at odds with one another. I have poked fun at the lack of candor about the crime problem in the past, but it is a serious matter. When I was administering a city out in western Illinois, my house here was burglarized. Not much was taken, but the back door was kicked in. Luckily for me, my neighbors and an off duty police officer friend secured the place until I could get back up here and get the door replaced. I saved the damaged door for evidence, complete with footprint, but nothing has happened, and now the trail is cold, indeed. I finally threw out the damaged door. I am not sure what the priorities of the police department are, but they need to be re-examined. The city’s priorities have been to increase sales tax revenues and expand. Other than promoting senior administration, it seems that code and law enforcement have suffered needlessly. Again, priorities need to be reassessed. This is one of the main reasons that I am supporting the home rule referendum effort. The only way that the public is going to break through the walls of denial there on South Fourth is to make a concerted effort to end the funding mechanism for the local empire.

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