Local Government

Turnout prompts overflow for landlord program discussion at Woodstock City Council meeting

Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com
Landlord Ralph Ritter of Woodstock make a statement to the Woodstock City Council during Tuesday's meeting. Hundreds of residents showed up to discuss a proposed ordinance that would implement a Landlord Registration Program in Woodstock.
Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com Landlord Ralph Ritter of Woodstock make a statement to the Woodstock City Council during Tuesday's meeting. Hundreds of residents showed up to discuss a proposed ordinance that would implement a Landlord Registration Program in Woodstock.

WOODSTOCK – The landlord community showed up in force at Tuesday’s Woodstock City Council meeting to voice their opinions on the proposed Landlord Registration Program, forcing the council to reconvene at Woodstock High School because of the crowd.

Woodstock city officials first introduced the concept of the registration program at its visioning workshop over the summer, but the plan previously had been considered in 2008 as part of a discussion on property maintenance code, according to city documents. The program did not move forward then because Woodstock was not a home rule community at the time.

City officials have said the program will increase safety and neighborhood stability. The plan also would be a way to hold landlords accountable for property maintenance. About 36 percent of people who live in Woodstock rent, which is 3 percentage points above the state average. About 50 percent of property complaints delivered to the Building and Zoning Department relate to rental properties, according to city documents.

Inspections and registration fees are proposed as part of the program. Landlords with one to 10 units would pay $15 for their initial registration, a landlord with 11 to 20 units would pay $30, and a landlord with more than 20 units would pay $50, according to the proposal.

Building inspectors would inspect units on a four-year cycle. Any unit without violations – or with five or fewer minor violations – could be provided a two-year extension before the next inspection, according to city documents.

The program would be a way for the city to implement a crime-free housing program, which would entail a lease provision on rental properties essentially allowing the city or landlord to evict a tenant because of illegal activity. Landlords could be required to attend a crime-free housing training as well, according to city documents.

Council members stressed that the plan was in its infancy.

“I would like to tap the brakes in respect to where we are at,” council member Mark Saladin said. “My goal is to make Woodstock better, and I think that we together … need to have this dialogue and this discussion. The question is what can we do together to assist the city in raising overall property values.”

Several council members took issue with the “no tenant tax” signs that have been popping up around town.

“I was a little put off by the tone of some of the signage,” Saladin said. “I thought it was extremely unfair to the city.”

Council member Mike Turner said he can see both sides of the argument and wants to strike a balance between governmental overreach and the city’s ability to help tenants stuck in a bad situation.

He also stressed that the proposed fees aren’t meant to boost revenue for the city’s general fund.

“I know every one of us in here is overtaxed and overregulated,” Turner said. “I am not interested in using a program like this to generate revenue for the general fund. I think there has been some misinformation about that.”

Many people at the meeting said the city has the tools it needs to address the problems the program is supposed to address.

“It has been highlighted there are some situations the city is hamstrung in,” said Conor Brown, government affairs director of McHenry County’s Heartland Realtor Organization. “But I think there is a big toolbox the city possesses, such as code enforcement.”

The idea of fees and inspections are hard for many to swallow. Other communities have implemented free registration programs, which would be better, said Jacqueline Lechner, director of broker development with Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

“You have mentioned this isn’t a money grab, so get rid of the licensing fee,” she said. “McHenry has one line in its ordinance. ... Landlords should register. It’s very simple. it’s very easy. It doesn’t scare people, and it works.”

The Woodstock City Council did not take action on the item Tuesday, and it might consider the plan at a future date.

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