Two years ago, Collinsville's plan to implement a Crime Free Rental Housing Program in the city was met with resistance by landlords.
Today, many landlords have embraced the program that helps them evict problem tenants who engage in criminal activity and, in turn, increase the value of their rental properties.
Since the program was adopted in January 2011, the city has seen crime go down in many previously high-crime, high-call neighborhoods. Before the program was enacted, landlords often didn't know that police had been called to the properties they owned and were not always aware there was criminal activity going on, according to Collinsville Assistant Police Chief Dave Roth.
Roth attributes the success of the program to better communication and cooperation between landlords and the Police Department.
"We began notifying landlords when we were called to one of their places and the landlords were put on notices that they may have a problem with one of their tenants. If they don't know there is a problem at their property, they can't fix it," Roth said. "The program is focused on behavior and behavior alone. This is not a program for missed rent payments, but for criminal behavior."
The city has 4,055 rental units, which includes both single family homes and apartment units. Those properties are owned by about 499 landlords.
Since the program was made mandatory, police have been able to evict tenants who operated burglary or prostitution rings from rental properties and reduce crime and crime calls in targeted locations by 33 percent.
"We are identifying the bad guys and notifying the landlord that this is the behavior that is going on," said Crime Free Housing Program Coordinator Bill Berger. "They are doing background checks on tenants and aren't renting to the bad guys. They are finding that while it may take them a little longer to fill that occupancy, once they get it filled, they aren't losing the good tenants because of the behavior of the bad tenants. People are taking care of their homes and they take pride in where they live so they stay there longer and paying their rent regularly. It's good for everybody. It benefits landlords because it helps them earn money and it benefits tenants because they aren't living next to criminal activity."
In 2010, one rental unit targeted as a problem location by police logged 183 police calls, several of those calls required the response of more than one officer. After the program went into effect, the landlord told the tenant he couldn't have certain people at the property and if he did, he would be evicted.
Calls to that home dropped to zero in the first quarter after the crime-free housing program went in to effect and has had one call for an animal complaint since.
"That's an extreme example," Roth said. "But, it's an example of what's going on here. Police are spending less time in problem areas because the problem tenants are being evicted and the community as a whole benefits because the crime rate goes down. The program has been, without question, a complete success. It has been a complete success not only for the Police Department, but also for the city."
A crime-free program started in Collinsville in 2007, but it was not mandatory. Landlords could decide whether they wanted to participate. Some did, some didn't, according to Roth, and the program was not a true crime-free program as it wasn't very effective in removing tenants engaging in criminal behavior from rental properties.
"When it was finally made mandatory in 2010 there was an upheaval of landlords because they were understandably upset that it was going to cost them money," Roth said. "But the reality of the program is, once it took effect, the landlords had more teeth, more cooperation and much, much more effectiveness in removing problem tenants."
The program costs $25 for a landlord to obtain a business license and an additional $25 for each rental unit owned by the landlord. A rental lease in Collinsville now must contain and Crime-Free Addendum which lists the specific criminal acts that will result in the immediate termination of a lease and eviction of a problem tenant.
Berger is working on a new program available for Collinsville landlords as well, he said.
The Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design program offers landlords an inspection of the rental property, at no cost to the landlord for the inspection. Berger inspects the property and looks for crime prevention features in a home such as peepholes in doors, deadbolt locks, assures that striker plates on locks have long enough screws, windows open and close as they should and have working locks, assure all lights work, and that shrubbery is trimmed away from a home so passersby and neighbors can see if a crime is being committed.
"All of these ideas are just about crime prevention," Berger said. "Once a place passes the inspection, we are working on a webpage in the Crime Free Directory that will list all the landlords who have had the crime prevention inspection done on their properties."
The Collinsville Police Department is also planning to increase the Neighborhood Watch programs in the city. There are a few right now but Roth hopes to expand the program.
"What solves crimes is information. Information from the public helps us," Roth said. "When you have a Neighborhood Watch program, you have people in that neighborhood paying more attention to what's going on around them than those who don't have a Neighborhood Watch."
Berger will also be part of the Neighborhood Watch program by offering training to participants about how to spot a crime, how to report a crime, how to stay in contact with police and how to be more observant.
"We want to start a communication flow back and forth with police and neighborhoods," he said.