Carolyn Moore and Steve Walsh came to know one another through an ad in the newspaper. She was looking for a place to live and he had an apartment for rent.
On a handshake, without a lease agreement, a background check or even a security deposit, Moore moved into Walsh’s wood-frame property at 900 Ferdinand. With her 4-year-old son, Moore lived on the first-floor of the building. Downstairs in a garden apartment was Moore’s 24-year-old daughter. For the two apartments, she paid $1,300 a month.
The building also hosts a third apartment on the second floor.
The lack of formalities, though, led to problems on both sides of the tenant-landlord relationship. Moore, who moved out in July, accused Walsh of never fixing an endless list of problems with the plumbing, the heat and the locks. He was eventually cited by municipal inspectors for various code violations, including having an illegal basement apartment.
Walsh, meanwhile, described his former tenants as “an absolute nightmare.”
Since June 2008, Mayor Anthony Calderone has been trying to implement a program that would focus on problematic rental properties in Forest Park. Specifically, the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program would target criminal behavior, but it could also go a long way toward improving conditions for renters and landlords alike.
A first step in that program would be a comprehensive assessment of the housing stock in Forest Park.
“We don’t have the manpower to do annual inspections,” Bob Teets, interim director of the Department of Public Health and Safety, said.
No one in Forest Park is certain of how many rental units exist in the village, but the 2000 census puts the figure at 45 percent of all residential properties. Identifying illegal apartments most often occurs when inspectors receive a complaint about a property, said Teets.
Chief Steve Glinke of the fire department said there are four separate property databases maintained at village hall, each serving a different department. For his purposes, rental properties are defined as having at least four units. Glinke recognized that definition may not be consistent with what’s used in other departments.
“That’s a huge problem in updating records and sharing information and things like that,” Glinke said.
The Crime Free Multi-Housing Program would dedicate a police officer to work with landlords and property owners on screening tenants, maintaining their buildings and reporting criminal behavior to the police. The lynchpin to the program would be a local ordinance mandating property owners to participate in training programs. Lease agreements would also include language allowing owners to evict tenants who commit crimes.
The program was first developed in 1992 in Mesa, Ariz., and has been adopted by communities across the country.
In the dispute between Walsh and Moore, no criminal acts have been alleged.
Police Chief Jim Ryan began soliciting applicants in-house for the Crime Free Multi-Housing position in early August with a deadline of Sept. 1. However, Ryan said Monday he had not yet filled the position. The village council is yet to adopt the ordinances necessary to implement the program, and there’s been no public discussion of how the program’s success would be measured.
According to Ryan, those policies and ordinances are being drafted, but there is no timeline for bringing them to the council.
Walsh, a St. Charles resident, said he was not familiar with the proposed program that would further regulate rental properties, but indicated he may be open to something that helps him better manage his building. He bought the building in 1987 and lived there for about eight years. That he no longer lives in the community makes it more difficult to run it well, he said. Walsh said he’s had problems with other tenants, too.
“I’ve got a bunch of scumbags that are working the system and that’s partially my fault for not screening properly,” Walsh said. “I could use some help with that.”
Moore, meanwhile, said that when she contacted local inspectors to complain about the condition of the building, she had no idea the basement apartment wasn’t legal. She said she believed money was at the root of Walsh’s struggle to maintain the property, and for that reason gave him the benefit of the doubt when it came to fixing various problems.
“I don’t like moving, and that’s why I stayed there and dealt with it,” Moore said.