Four years ago, aldermen radically changed the ways landlords deal with tenants when the City Council passed what’s called the “crime-free” housing ordinance in an effort to reduce crime in rental properties.
On Monday night, the City Council will consider whether to renew the ordinance for another four years.
The city’s Crime-Free Housing Committee on Wednesday recommended that the council keep the ordinance on the books for the next four years to help city officials monitor what’s happening at more than 7,000 rental units citywide.
Ward 4 Alderman Raffi Ovian asked the committee to support making the ordinance permanent instead of being renewed every four years, but that motion failed. The City Council will have the final say on what happens.
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Kevin Bouse, who has been a landlord for 27 years in Belleville and has 450 rental units in the city, is a member of the Crime-Free Housing Committee who supports the ordinance.
“It’s a good system of checks and balances,” Bouse said. “This is what helps us keep up our value in older parts of town.”
Bouse said he only buys rental properties in cities that have crime-free ordinances.
It’s a good system of checks and balances.
Kevin Bouse, a landlord in Belleville
But Rick Brown, who is a landlord in Belleville, said while he supports the city’s property maintenance code, he believes the crime-free and occupancy permit ordinances give city officials too much leeway to conduct unauthorized searches.
“You can get a ticket for just about anything,” Brown said. “I don’t get why they won’t put up front what the rules are so people know them.”
Bob Sabo, the director of the city’s Health, Housing and Building Department, said the city ordinances have been reviewed by the city attorney and are constitutional.
Brown was the only person at the Crime-Free Housing Committee meeting to criticize the city’s housing policy.
The ordinance calls for police officers to file “rental incident forms” to document each time they deal with a complaint on a rental property. Since November 2013, more than 6,000 forms have been filed. Also, officers have arrested more than 370 people in connection with crime-free housing violations since the program began.
Master Sgt. Bill Herling, who has been the crime-free housing coordinator for the police department since the program was enacted in 2013, believes the program has been a success.
“The greatest thing about it is the accountability,” Herling said. “It makes everybody accountable — landlords, the tenants also.”
It makes everybody accountable — landlords, the tenants also.
Master Sgt. Bill Herling
Herling, who monitors all the rental incident forms filed by police officers, said, “There were some areas that were changing, and without this ordinance, I think they would have changed for the worse.”
Jeff Fiudo, a Collinsville resident who owns rental property in Belleville and attended the committee meeting Wednesday, said he supports the ordinance.
“When we confront a tenant, we know what was going on on our property because we get those police reports,” Fiudo said. “And that’s a huge deal because before it was basically one tenant saying this happened, another tenant saying, ‘Well that never happened.’
“It’s helped change the behaviors of the tenants,” he added.
Highlights of the ordinance include:
▪ Landlords must take steps to evict tenants charged with crimes occurring in the rental unit or on common areas related to the rental unit.
▪ All owners, landlords and managing agents must complete the city’s crime-free housing training program or have been certified by another municipality’s crime-free housing program.
▪ Criminal background checks must be completed on tenants.
▪ If rental property owners live out of the area, they must have a local managing agent who lives within 50 miles of the city.
▪ Landlords are required to pay a $25 fee annually for each rental unit.
The city uses the money collected to pay for the program. An exact amount collected in the past four years was not immediately available.
The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at Lindenwood University-Belleville at 2600 W. Main St. because City Hall is being renovated.
Crime-free housing at a glance
Belleville’s crime-free housing ordinance calls for police officers to file a “rental incident form” each time an officer responds to a complaint at a rental property like apartment complexes or duplexes. Here are the numbers of forms filed and arrests made:
2017 (as of July 1)
Source: Belleville Police Department