A highly controversial ordinance related to occupancy permits was debated during a Belleville committee meeting Wednesday night at City Hall.
Members of the Public Health & Housing Committee heard from residents and landlords who are against the ordinance change. Following a nearly two-hour debate, the committee then voted to forward the proposal to the full City Council for approval.
Rick Brown, a Belleville landlord, spoke against the proposed ordinance.
"In the United States, people have a fundamental right to privacy," Brown said.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said an occupancy ordinance has been in effect since 1988.
"It's not like Belleville is doing something different than others," Eckert said. "We are not doing anything brand new."
Cities such as Fairview Heights and Granite City require occupancy permits and ask that names of occupants be listed on the permit, Eckert said.
Belleville currently requires occupancy permits, but the ordinance would clarify that only residents identified on the permit -- by name, relationship and birthday -- are allowed to live in the respective dwelling.
Brown said he was against the city requiring residents to put their relationships on the permit. "It's none of the city's business who I sleep with, what their name is and what their birthday is," he said.
Since the full council tabled the matter last month, Robert Sabo, director of Health, Housing, Building and Zoning, said an amendment was added to the ordinance that states an occupancy permit would not be required for visitors and a mandate requiring residents up to a year to comply in any case where the birth or adoption of a child causes the household to violate the maximum occupancy allowance was eliminated.
Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, a mayoral candidate in the April election, said he supports the city dropping the one-year requirement to notify the city of a birth or adoption.
However, Hayden said he does not support the city telling homeowners how many people can live in their home. City ordinance mandates how many residents can live in a home based on its square footage.
Under the occupancy permit ordinance, he said his brother's family of four would not be permitted to live with him at his Belleville home if their home in Florida was destroyed by a hurricane as that would make six occupants, which is above the number permitted.
"I have a problem with government telling me how to raise my family," he said.
Eckert said the city is not trying to be "unreasonable," but wants to put additional measures in place to ensure the safety of its residents.
Belleville Police Lt. Matt Eiskant spoke in favor of the changes to the occupancy permit ordinance. He said having names on the occupancy permits often aids the Police Department during its investigation.
In addition, Eiskant said, "overcrowded conditions of a residence in my experience festers crime."
He explained the Police Department uses occupancy permits as one of its tools in fighting crime. "In essence, it makes Belleville a safer place to live, because it helps us do our job," Eiskant said.
Resident Victoria Weygandt, a candidate for Ward 7 alderwoman, was in favor of these code changes.
"For the health and safety of our city, we need to have these permits," Weygandt said.
Resident and Belleville landlord Lee Otis Griffin said he is against the changes.
"I think the benefits do not outweigh the unconstitutionality of this," Griffin said. "You are talking about our lives and infringing on our constitutional rights."
Eckert, who is up for re-election, said the permit is a key component of the crime-free housing plan currently being reviewed by city staff. For example, as part of the crime-free housing program, any residents listed on the permit over the age of 18 would be subject to a mandatory criminal history and sex offender registry background check.
Eckert also proposed an appeal process be set up to review any issues that arise from the enforcement of the permits. City staff will provide the details of such a process at the next Housing Committee meeting.
Additional information contributed by Jacqueline Lee. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.