Belleville's Crime Free Housing Task Force Committee unanimously voted Wednesday evening to send the proposed crime-free housing ordinance to the city's housing committee.
The committee has spent about a year discussing, dissecting, changing and examining the proposed ordinance.
"We wanted to make sure we had enough time as we needed to do this right," said Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert. "We think we have an ordinance that will work for Belleville and I think we will have a crime-free ordinance very soon."
The task force held a public hearing to get input on the crime-free housing ordinance before Wednesday's vote. More than 20 people had two minutes each to opine about the ordinance.
A majority of speakers said they were in support of the ordinance but were concerned about some of the language and asked the committee to look into some legal issues pertaining to evictions.
"We need crime-free housing," said Sindy Kubitschek, a Belleville landlord. "Surrounding communities have it and are doing very well. We need it too, if we are going to continue to thrive."
Belleville resident Patty Gregory said landlords unhappy with the proposed $25 annual fee per rental unit and other expenses related to running criminal background checks on potential tenants was a drop in the bucket compared to what homeowners in neighborhoods experiencing high crime are facing.
"Where do the property rights of owners come into this? We are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on our homes," she said. "We want things cleaned up. I think this crime-free housing has got to pass."
Resident and landlord Scott Kronenberger said he supported the ordinance and added that while landlords may not like the $25 per rental unit fee, the fee will likely help landlords over time.
"The main thing we want is safety," he said. "As far as cost goes, with the $25 fee, in the long run, it will pay off because the safer the neighborhood, the more you can ask for in rent because people want safe neighborhoods and will pay more for them."
Rick Brown, a Shiloh resident who owns rental housing in Belleville, is not happy with the proposed ordinance.
"You are requiring us, as landlords, to violate the Fair Housing Act," he said. "You are requiring us to evict people for merely getting a ticket. When you vote on this, you are voting on unconstitutional issues that you will require to be carried out by a private party, a landlord. Good crime prevention starts with a good police force."
Fees collected by the city for rental units and fines for violations are expected to be used to hire another housing police officer and upgrade the police department's records management system.
Belleville attorney Kevin Kubitschek, who is also a landlord, told the committee that if they didn't address legal language in portions of the proposed ordinance that could be read to indicate that tenants who commit crimes would be immediately evicted, then the city faced future lawsuits.
"I'm in favor of what's being attempted -- to make the landlord's accountable," he said. "If you attempt to just evict people without due process or a hearing to defend themselves, I guarantee you will have lawsuits come down on you like a plague."
Belleville city attorney Garrett Hoerner explained that the ordinance doesn't require landlords to do anything not provided for under state law.
"The ordinance basically requires landlords to exercise the rights they already have under state statute," he said. "What's proposed is that the city require they exercise their legal rights."
Tenants will not lose any rights, he added. Any evictions prompted by criminal activity at a rental unit in Belleville will still have to follow state laws already in existence and the tenant, during that process, can fight the eviction and request a hearing.
The ordinance now heads to the housing committee where it will be reviewed during the Sept. 4 meeting. If the ordinance passes that committee, it next moves to the ordinance committee, which meets Sept. 10. If the proposed ordinance passes both committees, it will come before the full city council for a vote on Sept. 16.
The ordinance has a sunset clause written in to it. If the ordinance doesn't work, the council in 2017 can choose not to extend it.
A draft of the ordinance can be viewed on Belleville's website at www.belleville.net.