Morrissey administration rejects compromise

By Paul Arena
Rockford Apartment Association

As you probably know, the Morrissey administration successfully passed an ordinance amendment that will target landlords with code enforcement for the misbehavior of tenants.  That policy harms even the most responsible landlord. By not focusing on holding tenants accountable, criminal behavior goes unchecked and is repeated. That fact affects even well managed properties by degrading the quality of life in the neighborhoods we have invested in and eventually driving away good tenants.

After all of the work we did and the patience we have had with the city’s conduct, the council still voted to impose the same failed policy that contributes to Rockford’s high crime rate. The city never intended to give the common sense ideas that were part of the original ordinance a chance to work.  Associating code enforcement with crime is now the law in Rockford, not just a misguided policy.

How we got here

Six years ago the City of Rockford approached RAA claiming they needed to regulate you so they could know who to contact regarding issues at rented property. The RAA questioned why this was necessary. Government sends us tax bills and water bills. Those bills get paid. Contact was already being made but we still were willing to cooperate.

Disruptive behavior at rental property was a reason given for the need to contact the person responsible for a rented property. RAA’s concern was the fact that often the city delegates government’s responsibility to control crime onto property owners. The city uses code enforcement as leverage to punish property owners when tenant behavior disturbs the neighborhood.  The goal is to force the property owner to solve the problem on their own.

A reasonable solution

We agreed to work with the city on providing contact registration. In return we wanted to end the practice of using code enforcement as a method to penalize property owners over tenant behavior.  Rental property owners should be expected to provide a product that is safe and well maintained. Tenant should be expected to not cause code violations and to not disturb their neighbors. Government should be expected to enforce the laws on the people who have violated the law.

That commons sense, balanced approach was the basis of a comprehensive ordinance that was eventually passed. The city administration didn’t like it so they refused to implement it.  Holding landlords accountable was fine with the city but the obligation the ordinance placed on the city was not well received. The balanced structure of the original ordinance would have been imposed by the use of an independent group of citizens called a Housing Board. That board became the focus of the dispute over the Residential Quality Support Ordinance.

What the city did instead

The Morrissey administration was so opposed to the oversight of the Housing Board that they illegally changed the language of the ordinance as it was originally passed to make the Housing Board optional.

RAA recognized shortly after it was published that the ordinance language was changed. Despite that fact, RAA still worked with the city for two years in the hope that the intent of the last council would be honored and the ordinance would be used as intended.  We volunteered our time to help develop the registration software, to help people register, and we allowed the city to forward phone calls to us from citizens who had questions on the ordinance.

We were continually promised the philosophy of the original ordinance would be honored. We brought the evidence of the illegal language change to the attention of aldermen. Aldermen Chiarelli, Beach, Beck, McNamara, Newburg, and Oddo were all provided the documentation. When asked, Aldermen Thompson Kelly and Aldermen Getchius told me they didn’t even want to see it.

RAA did all we could to find a compromise.  In the end the city took all they wanted and gave us nothing. Instead of resolving behavior issues the housing board will be used to tell people to cut their grass. Will that reduce crime?

What can you do now?

To be ignored is unacceptable. We have a political problem.  We are responsible business people who made a legitimate effort to help government.

In the past real estate investors have not participated in political campaigns in an organized manner and that needs to change.  RAA wants to partner with responsible investors like you to find and support candidates for office who embrace compromise. People who have invested in this community must have a voice in the next election cycle.

The Rockford Apartment Association would like to see an end to the policy of using code enforcement as a method to penalize property owners for tenant conduct. Now that it has become part of the law we have a better opportunity to challenge the policy in court. If you experience enforcement of code violations after disruptive behavior of tenants please contact RAA. We are looking for a case we can use to challenge this policy.

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