Belleville

Belleville panel declines to change city’s occupancy-permit ordinance

Complaint raised about Belleville occupancy permits

Rick Brown complains about Belleville's occupancy-permit ordinance before a city committee, which declined to change the ordinance Tuesday night.
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Rick Brown complains about Belleville's occupancy-permit ordinance before a city committee, which declined to change the ordinance Tuesday night.

The City Council’s Ordinance & Legal Review Committee on Tuesday night discussed the city’s occupancy-permit ordinance following complaints raised by Rick Brown, a longtime critic of the city’s housing policies, but the panel did not take any action to change the ordinance.

Brown believes the city’s ordinance “forces people to consent to illegal searches of their homes” and allows the city to make a family pay for a new city inspection if they have a baby or adopt a child.

But city officials said inspectors are acting properly and they do not make families pay for a new inspection and a new occupancy permit when they have a baby.

We don’t have a rogue housing director. These guys are using discretion. I see this as a solid law ordinance. They’re following the law.

Ward 8 Alderman Roger Wigginton, chairman of the Ordinance & Legal Review Committee

“They don’t do inspections without consent,” City Attorney Garrett Hoerner told the committee.

Ward 8 Alderman Roger Wigginton, the chairman of the committee, praised the housing inspectors.

“We don’t have a rogue housing director,” Wigginton said. “These guys are using discretion.

“I see this as a solid law ordinance. They’re following the law.”

In reaction to the committee’s decision to not change the city’s ordinance, Brown questioned the city’s practice of using “discretion” in enforcing the ordinance.

“‘Well if I know this guy, hey he’s not going to have to have an inspection and if I know this guy, or if I feel sorry for this guy,’ that’s equal protection violation,” Brown said.

The occupancy-permit ordinance was last modified in February 2013.

‘Well if I know this guy, hey he’s not going to have to have an inspection and if I know this guy, or if I feel sorry for this guy,’ that’s equal protection violation.

Rick Brown

Bob Sabo, the director of the city’s Health, Housing and Building Department, has said the rules were revised in an effort to stop some landlords who would get a person’s name on an occupancy permit and then let several other persons rent the place without paying for a new housing inspection.

In several City Council meetings this summer, Brown sharply criticized the way Sabo interprets the city’s occupancy-permit ordinance. In response, city officials said the issue would be addressed by the Ordinance & Legal Review Committee.

Mayor Mark Eckert told Brown that Tuesday night’s discussion gave Brown a fair chance to air his complaint and he apologized to Sabo for the “harsh comments” he has had to hear.

Eckert said the city cannot a write an ordinance that is “picture perfect” to fit every scenario. He agrees with Wigginton that the city’s inspectors have been using good discretion in enforcing the ordinance.

Wigginton said the ordinance is designed to prevent circumstances such as the time the city discovered 13 people were living in an apartment in the 7700 block of West Main Street.

“These are checks and balances,” he said.

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