Rental licensing program committee winds down
Skokie Assistant Village Manager John Lockerby addresses the Interim Landlord-Resident Advisory Committee. The committee is close to making recommendations for a new ordinance for licensing rental units. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
The Interim Landlord-Resident Advisory Committee will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Village Hall. Members are continuing to scrutinize a summary of consensus and disagreement points. Chairman Don Perille wants to send recommendations to the Village Board in January. The recommendations presumably would be taken into account when a new ordinance is drawn up.
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:14PM
SKOKIE — It comes as no surprise to any member of the Interim Landlord-Resident Advisory Committee that there will be no recommended ordinance coming from the group when its work goes before the Village Board next year.
The controversial concept of licensing most rental housing units met with major opposition by more than a dozen village landlords, some of whom sit on the advisory group along with proponents of the village’s plan.
“As I said from the beginning, we would not come up with 100 percent agreement,” said Trustee Don Perille, chairman of the committee that met last week. “We’re not going to write up an ordinance.”
Instead, the committee is likely to provide a summary of points on which it agrees and disagrees.
The village originally proposed a licensing program requiring landlords to pay $25 per unit for licenses and another $10 per certified owner or managing unit. Owners occupying their two-flats would be exempt from the fee under the plan, as would those in condominiums and co-ops for the time being. Landlords would also attend a landlord-training class to become certified.
The plan was the subject of several acrimonious public meetings before Mayor George Van Dusen assembled the committee to see if compromises could be reached before the board votes.
But as the group’s work winds down, it’s apparent that there are still fundamental differences between landlords and proponents – even about whether such a licensing plan is necessary.
“I can’t imagine a landlord doing something wrong where there isn’t an ordinance already in the books to take care of it,” said Landlord George Sweet.
Village officials see the program as preventative, a way for landlords and the village to work better together and to respond to incidents in a more efficient manner. From the village’s perspective, the program puts more teeth into existing laws. A police officer would have full-time duty working the program, which village officials also believe would be a benefit to both residents and landlords.
Even if there remains differences between the parties, the process has resulted in some consensus. And the parties agree the process has been beneficial and could result in more permanent collaboration among the village, landlords and tenants.
The committee agrees on the following:
• There should be a proactive and preventative program “that strengthens communication and partnership between landlords, tenants and the village.”
• The program should be inclusive of all residential rental property if not immediately then within reasonable time.
• The ordinance should include a definition section.
• There is value in training for landlords, although some do not believe “good landlords” should be required to attend classes.
• A contact name and phone number should be required to be posted on buildings.
• “Bad landlords” should be addressed.
• More details and specificity about program provisions should be part of the ordinance to ensure better understanding.
The majority of landlords favor a registration program over a licensing program if an ordinance must be adopted.
Attorney Barbara Mangler of the village said a license issued by the village is “an authorization to engage in some form of business” – in this case the rental of a unit.
A landlord still has the duty as property owner to follow any and all appropriate village codes, included but not limited to property maintenance and life safety codes.”
A license provides a mechanism to suspend the license and take away the village’s permission to rent units.
In a registration program, Mangler said, the village is not authorizing or giving permission to rent a unit or building.
“The obligation on the landlord is to make sure all his or her units are declared to the village,” Mangler said. “The obligations to follow any and all building, life safety codes are the same, but the village will not have the ability to deny the landlord permission to rent a unit.”
Landlord Richard Toth, a lawyer, maintained the licensing program might be unconstitutional since landlords have a right to conduct their business – it’s not a privilege such as getting a driver’s license.
“I don’t think it’s that much of a privilege,” he said. “This is a right, not a privilege.”
Assistant Village Manager John Lockerby said businesses must have certificates of occupancy to operate, implying that being a landlord is similar because it, too, is a business. Lockerby also emphasized that Schaumburg and Palatine have licensing programs and have seen a 10 percent drop in crime since they were implemented.
Village officials say crime has dropped over the last several years in Skokie so reducing crime is not the overall goal of the program.
The Skokie Voice residents’ association in the village, maintains that more serious crime has been on the upswing over the last five years and mostly in multi-family residential areas.
Perille knew, once the committee was formed, that there would be a spirited debate among its members.
“We wanted to do something about bad tenants without hurting good tenants,” Perille said. “That’s not the easiest thing to do.”