Daily Egyptian

Carbondale city council, community members discuss fining landlords for ‘chronic nuisance’ homes

Carbondale+Police+Chief+Jeff+Grubbs+speaks+to+reporters+Aug.+1.+%28Isabel+Miller+for+DailyEgyptian.com%29
Carbondale Police Chief Jeff Grubbs speaks to reporters Aug. 1. (Isabel Miller for DailyEgyptian.com)

Carbondale Police Chief Jeff Grubbs speaks to reporters Aug. 1. (Isabel Miller for DailyEgyptian.com)

Carbondale Police Chief Jeff Grubbs speaks to reporters Aug. 1. (Isabel Miller for DailyEgyptian.com)

By Bill Lukitsch

City council members and community residents spent nearly two hours Tuesday night hashing out a proposed city ordinance that would hold landlords accountable for allowing massive or potentially dangerous parties to persist on their properties.

Carbondale Police Chief Jeff Grubbs and Sgt. Amber Ronketto unveiled the first draft of the ordinance to receive feedback from city council members and the public. The measure to enact new regulations spurred from a community forum in the spring that identified “chronic nuisance residences” as a top priority among those who attended.

“This isn’t an ordinance where we’re trying to regulate any old house party,” Grubbs said, adding that most of the parties in the city do not see a police presence and landlords generally work with the department to correct problems with tenants.

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But there are a handful of landowners, he said, who allow tenants to violate laws with little regard for concerns of local law enforcement and the community.

Proposed is a three-strike system that would allow the police chief to declare a rental property as a “chronic nuisance house” after consultation with the city manager. It defines such a property as a dwelling where at least three unlawful activities specified in the ordinance occur “in, at or about the unit” during a one-year period. That definition widens to six offenses per year in residences classified as hotels and motels under the ordinance.

The unlawful activities outlined in the draft include public indecency, illegal parking, damage to property, obstructing traffic, loud music and reckless conduct.  Any felony or misdemeanor crime committed on or about the property could also be considered a strike.

In the coming weeks, the police department is set to meet with local landlords and SIU administrators to solidify a proposal for the council’s consideration, Grubbs said. The chief plans to involve student representatives from Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate and Professional Student Council for additional insight on how to allow students a college experience while creating a safer environment.

“We’re a university community,” Grubbs said. “This isn’t about killing the fun.”

Current police practices include issuing individual tickets to tenants for violations of city ordinances. Those lack teeth, Grubbs said, and the department has yet to have an ordinance that provides the opportunity to work directly alongside landlords.

First steps under the proposal would be to initiate contact with owners of problem properties and provide counsel. If no measures are taken by landlords to correct persistent problems, fines ranging from $750 to $1,500 would be imposed on landowners for subsequent offenses after strike three.

Ronketto, who helped create the first draft, said the department looked at data from other cities around the state that have put similar regulations in place.

A large population of transient renters comprise a majority of the city’s residents. Between 2010 and 2014, a mere 26 percent of homes were occupied by owners, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Basically, we took the consideration that this is not going to affect a lot of residences, but given that we are over 70 percent non-owner occupied, we need to have some leverage to help abate these instances,” Ronketto said.

MORE: Carbondale mayor announces Tim Beaty Day

While several community members stood to support the proposal, some questioned the ordinance’s necessity, implementation, legality, ambiguity and whether it could be racially discriminatory. Skeptics also cited the broad scope of power the chief would have in declaring properties as chronic nuisance homes.

Jessica Lynn, a Carbondale resident, was one of those skeptics.

Lynn said the approach of creating the ordinance would push landlords to evict tenants hastily. She encouraged the council to explore alternatives that involve more community engagement instead of increased policing.

On the other end, Don Monty, a former city councilman and former mayor who serves on the city’s Liquor Control Advisory Board, said nuisance properties have a history of becoming crime problems in neighborhoods. He suggested a carefully written ordinance could be the “missing ingredient” in dealing with problem tenants.

In addition to considering the ordinance, Councilman Adam Loos proposed the idea of licensing landlords.

“If you’ve got a chainsaw and you want to take $20 from me to cut a branch off my tree, you have to have a license to do that,” he said. “You can’t cut a branch off a tree for pay without a license, and yet you can rent these properties to people — just go buy it, and open up shop. It’s crazy.”

Councilwoman Jessica Bradshaw said she initially thought the ordinance was a good idea, but hearing some comments from the audience made her uncertain. She said she would not support the ordinance in its current form and hoped another draft would be submitted for future discussion before bringing the matter to a vote.

“Looking at this ordinance now, I think it’s too subjective and I’m concerned about the rights of the tenants,” Bradshaw said.

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @lukitsbill.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Carbondale city council, community members discuss fining landlords for ‘chronic nuisance’ homes”

  1. Yahaira Heller on September 1st, 2016 11:45 pm

    I won’t say that some of the parties don’t get out of hand or that some homes party every weekend without regards for their neighbors. What I will say is that I find it so appalling that this city’s council finds the time to attempt to pass an ordinance that would limit house parties in the name of public safety and may actually violate tenants rights in the process. I want to know where is their apparent concern with public safety in regards to these ‘slum lords’ who have the most leniency in city building code inspections. Where is their concern for public safety when these landlords refuse to do basic things like have screens on their windows or ensure that their doors are secured and insulated properly? Where is the city’s concern for public safety when these landlords can’t even ensure that all of the windows in the units they rent out are in working order? I once complained about an issue with peeling wallpaper over my stove, the response I got was the apartment doesn’t have to be pretty, that’s what someone in one of those rental companies told me. I mean if the apartment doesn’t have to be pretty can I pay you in Monopoly money? I mean because if we are going to live in a slum because there is no other affordable housing then my money doesn’t have to be green does it? City council if 70% of the homes are not owner occupied, and you don’t want people treating these homes like a huge nightclub full of debauchery and nonsense try a little harder to protect the renters. Enforce the city building code so that we don’t live in apartments that no longer meet common standards of living. Asking for working Windows and doors with basic things like blinds and screens is not too much to ask for, but if I could stretch it a bit I would ask for shingles to not hit me in the face when it rains. For landlords to hire a pest control person to spray once a month especially if they won’t provide any screens. For porches to have railing if above 2.5 ft and for porch support beams to be inspected and replaced if damaged or warped so that the structure is maintained safe and stable. Technically all of those would also fall under concerns about public safety and they also serve to beautify our town.

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