Landlords question wording of nuisance ordinance

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

The city’s Chronic Nuisance Ordinance was laid over Monday, July 14, leaving some Rockford landlords wondering what the law actually says about the city’s role in enforcing it.

According to Rockford Apartment Association President Paul Arena, the ordinance was initially written stating the city “shall” refer complaints to the yet-to-be-formed Housing Board. In the version of the ordinance marked “Certificate of Publication,” otherwise known as the final version after edits, the ordinance states the city “may” refer cases to the Housing Board.

Arena says the ordinance passed containing the word “shall,” begging a question why the wording may have been changed.

I think it’s so they don’t have to do it,” Arena said, referring to actually forming a special housing board to deal with ordinance violations.

As of this report, the city is still seeking board members. Until the board is formed, a “City Official” — police chief, deputy director of community development, building code official, legal director, or any of their designees — will be responsible for dealing with property owners accused of violating the ordinance.

Arena said he wants the ordinance published the way it was written when the council voted on it the first time. Ald. Tom McNamara, D-3, who wasn’t on the council when the ordinance passed, agreed.

My goal is to find out,” McNamara said. “If it passed with ‘shall’ or ‘may,’ those votes should be respected.”

The council is expected to review the matter and continue discussing a possible re-vote July 21.

Former Fourth Ward Democrat Carl Wasco also wants to get to the bottom of what the ordinance states. If the final draft contains the word “may,” Wasco says the effectiveness of the ordinance could be in jeopardy.

The draft I remember voting on said ‘shall,’” Wasco said. “I worked on that ordinance for a year, and what I was working off of said ‘shall.’ That’s my recollection.”

Wasco said if the wording was changed, it happened after the ordinance was approved and made its way from the council floor upstairs, where it was signed by Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) and City Legal Director Patrick Hayes.

According to Hayes, there were several edits to the ordinance before it was adopted in February 2013. Among the edits was the replacement of the word “shall” with the word “may.” Hayes said the record shows aldermen were aware of the change and had more than two months — from late November to February — to challenge the wording. Instead, aldermen adopted the draft containing the word “may.”

To suggest the ordinance was modified underhandedly is not truthful,” Hayes said.

The Rockford City Council meets every Monday at City Hall, 425 E. State St.

From the July 16-22, 2014, issue

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