After years of effort, Woodstock approves program to deal with problematic landlords

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After more than a year of workshopping, Woodstock passed a program aimed at dealing with landlords who neglect their properties and don’t address complaints.

The program requires registration for owners and landlords who have two more code violations in a single rental unit within a six-month period but does not require a fee for that registration, according to city material.

Landlords found to have four or more code violations within a year must get a permit and comply with various inspection requirements, city material states.

The item was approved by the City Council at its meeting this month in a 6-0 vote, with Council member Lisa Lohmeyer recusing herself.

The purpose of it is not punishment and looks to improve the community, Mayor Mike Turner said at the meeting.

“This item has been long discussed,” Turner said. “I support the purposes of this plan. … I think that its structure is a laudable step in improving the look of our town and properties that we would like to see improved.”

The program is described in the city ordinance as a “performance-based property-management program” that opens up landlords who don’t take care of their properties or tenants to possible registration and possible inspection.

Landlords who take care of their properties and address complaints promptly “are generally left alone,” according to city material.

“This was a real heavy lift,” council member Wendy Piersall said. “I’m almost choking up a little because this was one of the biggest inspirations for me to run for office. This is a sweet moment to have this pass tonight.”

While the current proposal picked up steam last year, efforts to curtail problematic landlords dates back several years. Examples of landlords and owners being brought in front of the City Council date back almost a decade, with proposals cropping up as early as 2017.

Woodstock has about 10,000 dwellings, as of Sept. 2021, about 40% of which were classified as rental units.

The idea for this particular program started back in June 2021, when city staff presented the program, which was aimed at “the small number of landlords” whose neglect negatively impacts the perception of the community, city material states.

Under the program, landlords with two more more violations within a unit over a six-month period must register all their properties with the city and provide contact information, city material states.

A permit is required for those with more violations and can be gained only after the unit in violation passes an inspection. The first two inspections are free and cost $40 for any extra ones. If a unit goes 12 months without a violation, inspection requirements will be terminated.

There will be no changes to the city’s current process for dealing with code violations. Code violations will be inspected, with the landlord given a window of time to correct the issue. If that doesn’t happen, a fine will be levied. Landlords can contest the fine through a hearing officer.

Council member Bob Seegers said at the meeting that he spoke with a few people he knew who owned multiple rental units. Some told him they don’t think it’s fair to focus this type of program on just landlords and businesses and homeowners should be held to similar standards.

“I think it’s the right thing for our town,” he said. “We’re closing some loopholes.”

Neeley Erickson with the Illinois Realtors Government Affairs Director, speaking on behalf of Crystal Lake-based Heartland Realtor Organization, said her group supports the program.

“Realtors recognize the importance of developing a program that broadens the city’s options to respond to residents’ concerns of unkempt properties and tenant health and safety frustration, while being mindful of property rights,” she said.

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September 19, 2022 at 05:35PM

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