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A proposal to dedicate a full-time police officer to work with landlords in evicting problem tenants may make sense from a law enforcement perspective, said one Forest Park property manager, but that effort should take a targeted approach and avoid putting an unnecessary burden on responsible owners.

Bill Planek is the president of Greenplan Management in Oak Park, which oversees two residential complexes that house some 50 apartments here in Forest Park. He sees no reason for local government to tell him how to run his business, which he said boasts a solid track record for keeping riff raff out.

“It’s just prudent property management,” Planek said of running background checks on an applicant’s criminal and credit history. “Nobody wants gangbangers in their apartments.”

At a budget hearing last month Mayor Anthony Calderone asked commissioners to consider adding some $75,000 to the police department’s budget in support of the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program. That appropriation, along with the village’s entire spending plan, must be approved by the end of July.

Developed in 1992 in Mesa, Ariz., the Crime Free program attempts to educate property owners on how to run background checks, provide better security for their tenants and evict tenants caught dealing drugs or participating in other crimes. Both the mayor and the police chief, Jim Ryan, said officers here spend a disproportionate amount of time responding to calls at apartment buildings. The program, they said, would be a proactive approach to reduce crime.

“Forest Park knows that a lot of our problems stem from absentee landlords,” Calderone said earlier this month.

Ryan is in the process of compiling crime statistics as they relate to rental properties in Forest Park, which the mayor said will be presented to the council in time for a vote on the budget. The 2000 U.S. census reported that 45 percent of the village’s housing stock is rental units.

At the crux of the program is a lease addendum that states criminal behavior is grounds for eviction. Other municipalities that have adopted the program also approve local ordinances that require property owners to participate in the training. According to Calderone, similar ordinances would likely be used in Forest Park.

Sgt. John Nebl spearheaded the introduction of the Crime Free program in Schaumburg in 1999 and now helps oversee the training and certification of officers nationwide. Schaumburg was the first city in the state to adopt the program and in the first two years saw a 12 percent reduction in the amount of calls to rental properties there, said Nebl. The Chicago suburb has 18 apartment complexes and some 8,000 apartments.

In Schaumburg, multi-unit housing owners must be licensed by the municipality, much like a store owner must obtain a business license. Part of the licensing requirement is the use of a lease addendum prohibiting criminal behavior and the license holder’s attendance at an annual training seminar that can be completed in a day or over the course of two evenings, Nebl said.

More recently, Schaumburg began requiring owners of even single-unit properties to participate in the program. Never has the police department or the city had to contend with allegations of discriminatory practices in implementing the program, said Nebl, nor has the city had to revoke a license for noncompliance.

“I think what we’ve done is write a very solid ordinance,” Nebl said.

Forest Park does not have a licensing process for landlords.

Planek’s company is one of several in Forest Park that says they already use their lease agreement as a way to discourage criminal behavior. Jeff Gustafson is the president of R and D Realty and Management and oversees two apartment complexes in Forest Park, both at the junction of Lathrop Avenue and Roosevelt Road. Between the two properties there are 27 apartments and the lease includes a rider that prohibits criminal activity.

Gustafson said he’s skeptical that law enforcement would be able to intervene without proof that a crime has been committed, but would welcome the effort. He’s had mixed success working with the department in the past, he said, but praised a recent investigation that removed a suspected drug dealer from one of his properties.

Problems often arise not with the person who signs the lease, said Gustafson, but with a third party who moves in with the tenant, thus avoiding the background check. That was the case several months ago when a woman’s boyfriend allegedly began selling narcotics out of her apartment, he said.

“I think it would be great if they could help out with tenants that are doing drugs,” Gustafson said. “It’s just a matter of us proving that they’re doing something illegal. That’s the hard part.”

Anytime he’s requested a copy of a police report that might help him evict a tenant on the grounds of criminal activity, Gustafson said authorities redact most of the identifying information making it impossible to pin the crime to the tenant.

“If you’re lucky, sometimes you get a unit number [for the apartment building],” Gustafson said.

For the eight years that Adrienne Summers has managed the multi-story Forest Park Apartments complex on Desplaines Avenue, the company has always stipulated that criminal behavior is grounds for eviction. A program like the one being proposed has its pros and cons, said Summers, and would likely draw more fire from absentee property owners. According to her own market surveys, Summers said her building may be the only complex with a management office onsite.

“For landlords who are not onsite and not there, they may be a little upset about that,” Summers said. “It may require more time and stuff like that.

“But it’s a good thing to know that the police are there if you need them.”