Madison County leaders approved zoning changes Wednesday over the protests of landlords who say the new rules require them to violate tenants’ privacy.
The county zoning ordinance affects the unincorporated areas of Madison County, not properties within cities and villages. The existing ordinance stated that manufactured homes in any zoning district require a special use permit. The procedure for that permit includes a $300 fee, a legal ad in the newspaper, a sign on the property indicating the permit has been requested, registered letters to the neighbors and a series of public hearings before it is voted by the county board. The permits last for five years and can be extended in five-year increments by an “administrative extension,” which the landlords said was usually granted with a $50 fee and an inspection of the property to make sure it still meets code.
The new language states that a new special use permit must be granted any time the property changes tenants, not just owners, and administrative extensions may not be granted unless there has been no change in occupant. It also adds that identifying information must be provided, including the name of the prospective tenant.
Landlords objected, stating that publishing the prospective tenant’s name is a violation of that tenant’s privacy. Lewis Simpson, chairman of the Granite City Landlords Association, said federal and state privacy laws require landlords to keep tenants’ personal information private. Putting that information in the newspaper, sending it to the neighbors and posting it on a sign could leave the landlord liable for legal action, he said.
“There is no reason for a new hearing for any new tenant,” Simpson said. “These new rules make any rental property with a special use permit useless.”
Zoning administrator Matt Brandmeyer said it’s a matter of accountability; it allows the county to hold the tenant responsible for problems on the property, rather than relying on the landlord to enforce the rules, and that this change would only affect manufactured homes in unincorporated areas. Site-built homes and residences in mobile home parks would not be affected, he said.
But Simpson said he believes it is discriminatory and limits housing opportunities in possible violation of federal law. “What does who lives in a home have to do with zoning?” he said.
Brandmeyer said that this is always the way Madison County had managed the permits as a matter of procedure, but it was not in the actual ordinance up until now. “It’s always been the case,” he said. “Every special use permit was ascribed to a particular tenant... There is no new requirement for a special use permit.”
But at least four landlords who attended the meeting said they have not had to provide tenants’ names in the past. Dillon Smith said he recently tried to file a request for a special use permit extension and was told he needed to provide the tenant’s name. When he refused, he said he was told it was required. But since it was not in the county ordinance, he filed a writ of mandamus that went to the state’s attorney’s office, who he said confirmed that the ordinance did not require the tenant’s name. Smith’s request for a special use permit was turned down by the county board last month, and now the language requiring tenants’ names has been added to the zoning ordinance.
“Our question is, what does it matter who lives in a particular property?” Smith said. “Zoning is supposed to be about the type of structure or in some cases, the type of business at a particular location, not about who lives there.”
Cynthia Shriver, president of the Metro-East Real Estate Association, said women who live alone or people fleeing domestic abuse will not want their names and addresses published for safety reasons. “If it’s a problem property, then cancel the permit,” she said. “What does it matter who lives there?”
Brandmeyer said if there are special circumstances such as a person fleeing abuse, there could be a procedure put in place to protect safety. He declined to speculate on what kind of procedure that would be.
Smith, who is a trustee of a property near Hamel owned by a woman who is now in a nursing home, said he intends to sue, as does his prospective tenant, who feels his civil rights have been violated. “As a taxpayer, I hate to sue my own county. It’s like suing myself,” he said. “But I have a fiduciary responsibility to an 89-year-old lady. These provisions have never been codified by the zoning ordinance, and thus you see before you (the provisions proposed).”
Board member Lisa Ciampoli asked Brandmeyer if the tenant’s name had to be published beyond the forms filed with the county. “I understand you may have to have it,” she said. “But does it have to be in the newspaper?” Brandmeyer said he believed that as part of the application for the special use permit, the tenant’s name would have be attached to the entire procedure.
Shriver said she and other landlords also object to the fees. “Paying $300 every time we change tenants is ridiculous,” she said. “The purpose of any such permit is a self-serving county revenue generator. I am sick and tired of your self-serving, made-up rules intended to extort money from us.”
The board approved the changes in a 20-6 vote. Board members Judy Kuhn, Mick Madison, Roger Alons, Michael Walters, Thomas McRae and Ciampoli voted no; board members Kelly Tracy, Ann Gorman and Nick Petrillo were absent.