Time for residents to weigh in on Belleville crime-free housing plan

News-DemocratAugust 27, 2013 

— Residents will get to comment on Belleville's latest draft of a proposed crime-free housing ordinance on Wednesday.

The public hearing is at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 101 S. Illinois St. as part of the city's task force committee meeting on the topic.

City officials and the mayoral appointed task force have worked for about a year on a program meant to reduce crime in rental housing in the city. The program requires landlords to evict renters who violate the law or lose their license to rent in the city.

Some landlords have criticized the program for targeting them and renters. Most recently a national fair housing group has said the program could unintentionally harm victims of domestic and sexual violence by displacing them or deterring them from reporting crimes.

Bob Sabo, the city's director of Health, Housing, Building and Zoning, said the city addressed the issue by adding a paragraph to the revised ordinance stating that it's not the intent of the ordinance to affect tenants who are victims of crimes.

The city currently has 5,523 registered rental units and about 825 landlords, Sabo said. The 2010 census found 7,274 rental units in Belleville, with 876 that were vacant, Sabo said.

Mandatory registration of all these units would bring in at least $138,075 per year, which the city will use to run the crime-free program and hire a new housing police officer.

The full proposal is on the city's website, www.belleville.net.

If approved, part of the program:

* Requires owners or landlords to take a class and earn a crime-free housing certificate by Nov. 1. If landlords are certified by another city, they do not need to take the training in Belleville. The city will not issue occupany permits for tenants of managers who do not hold a certificate.

* Requires an owner of a rental unit to be "available to respond if requested within 24 hours." This requirement is satisfied if the owner lives or has a business within 50 miles of Belleville or has a landlord who does.

* Requires each rental unit to be registered annually for $25.

* Requires managers to do a U.S. comprehensive criminal search on tenants older than 18 years old going back seven years for all new tenants. This rule does not apply to current tenants.

* Requires tenants and their guests to agree not to commit, engage in or permit any felonies or Class A misdemeanors as part of a crime-free rental agreement addendum.

* Asks that police officers responding to incidents at rental units to create a rental incident form.

* States it's a violation if owners do not remove tenants charged with a felony or misdemanor in the rental unit, has four ordinance violations in a 6-month period, or violates the agreement addendum.

* States that owners in violation could be fined $250 for the first violation, and $500 for the second and following violations.

* Calls for the mayor to appoint a 10-member Crime-Free Housing Committee that will meet at least twice a year to address the impact of the crime-free program and concerns from the public. The committee also will be given information on current crime statistics in Belleville and the program's revenue and expenditures.

* Clarifies that the program does not apply to nursing homes, hotels, public housing or dorms.

These changes are the result of about a year's work by the task force and city officials.

City leaders started drafting a mandatory crime-free housing program in 2011 after programs in Fairview Heights, Granite City and Collinsville.

A plan presented in July 2012 was met with backlash from landlords, who called the proposal vague, unduly burdensome and unfair because of the annual rental registration fee, because the program only targets renters and not homeowners, and because landlords were held accountable for evicting tenants who commit felonies.

In response to the criticism, Eckert created a task force composed of aldermen, landlords, real estate agents, a housing redevelopment representative and others to review the program. After about six months, the task force turned over recommendations to the city this spring.

Since then, Mayor Mark Eckert and Police Chief Bill Clay reviewed the document before turning it over to City Attorney Garrett Hoerner for legal review.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service