Guest Commentary: the Rockford Apartment Association

From Paul Arena
President, RAA

RAAIt has come to our attention that an amendment to the Residential Quality Support Ordinance (RQSO) is to be discussed at the Strategy Planning Session scheduled for tonight.  It is the opinion of the Rockford Apartment Association Board of Directors that the ordinance should be implemented as it was passed before any changes are made.  Two years after being adopted by the city council the ordinance has not been fully implemented.

Background

RQSO has not been used as it was intended to be. This ordinance was approved by the city council on a vote of 10 to 3 after nearly 4 years of discussion. After thoroughly considering our options, the aldermen who were members of that council believed that the system established by the ordinance would have a positive effect on the quality of life in Rockford. Improving quality of life by controlling disruptive behavior at rented property was the purpose for the RQSO.

Problem

As approved, the ordinance had a clearly defined procedure to respond to disruptive behavior. When published, the language of the ordinance was changed to make use of that procedure optional. Making that change of language was an act of official misconduct. Failing to correct the language so it reads as it was approved is an endorsement of that illegal behavior. More importantly the original purpose, to make neighborhoods better, is being ignored.

What is the effect?

The change of language undermines a critical part of the ordinance; that citizen are involved in the effort to deal with nuisance problems. That goal is accomplished by creating the Housing Board. This board is comprised of citizens who volunteer to evaluate chronic nuisance situations. The value of the board and the structured procedure of the RQSO is to ensure fair and reasonable treatment for all parties. This transparent process will serve to educate the public of the complexity of dealing with nuisance behavior. Through better understanding this community can adapt to respond to the social issues which lead to behavior that degrades quality of life.

How does the RQSO help?

As approved the RQSO is an effective tool. It uses a very broad standard to determine what behavior is targeted. The two primary activities that it controls are defined by law as follows:

1) Disorderly conduct – “A person commits disorderly conduct when he or she knowingly does any act in such

2) Offensive use of property – Offensive use of property occurs “if such use shall, from its boisterous nature, unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another and to provoke a breach of the peace”; or disturb or tend to disturb the peace of the neighborhood in which such building or premises are situated, or be dangerous or detrimental to health”

These laws cover a wide range of behavior. The most obvious application for the ordinance, where it would have an immediate effect, is shutting down drug houses. Within a week the standard for a chronic nuisance would be met and ten days after that all parties would be required to meet and control the behavior. Landlords and tenants who fail to take immediate action would be held accountable. It is unacceptable that this tool has been available to the city for two years but we continue to let drug houses operate.

Next steps

The Residential Quality Support Ordinance was carefully crafted with input from many people. The citizens of Rockford expect the goals of the ordinance to be met. It should be implemented immediately in the form it was approved. Only after we have experience operating under the approved structure should we consider making any change.

–CORRECT THE PUBLISHED VERSION OF THE ORDAINCE SO IT READS AS IT WAS APPROVED BY COUNCIL

–SEAT ALL MEMBERS OF THE HOUSING BOARD

–ENFORCE DISORDERLY CONDUCT AND OFFENSIVE USE OF PROPERTY

–USE THE NUSIANCE ABATEMENT SYSTEM WE CURRENTLY HAVE IN PLACE

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