An ordinance that won unanimous approval from the village council Monday gives local officials an aggressive tool with which to combat crime, but attempts to hold property owners responsible for problem tenants. According to language in the new regulations on “chronic nuisance” properties, the police department can ask landlords to evict any tenants who’ve been deemed a nuisance – and that goes for residential and commercial properties.
The new ordinance, which takes effect 10 days after its Nov. 9 approval, is born out of a months-long discussion at village hall regarding a crime prevention program developed in Arizona. That program, the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, has been pushed here by Mayor Anthony Calderone since June 2008. Until now, budget constraints had sidelined his efforts.
The adopted ordinance is actually a modified version of the Arizona program, which had to be tweaked because Forest Park is not a home-rule community and lacks the legal authority needed for a straight initiation of the Crime Free program, according to village officials. For example, Forest Park doesn’t have the authority to force property owners to participate in training seminars and thus be licensed before renting larger, multi-unit buildings. And, according to Police Chief Jim Ryan, Forest Park can not force a property owner to evict a tenant.
“Being non home-rule, we don’t have the teeth that some of these other communities have,” Ryan said.
The leverage in Forest Park’s version of the program comes from its handling of so-called nuisance properties. If a property owner does not agree to follow steps outlined by the police department – which may include evicting a tenant – the village can hold an administrative hearing and levy a fine of $750 per violation. The ordinance also spells out that a property owner can be taken to court in an effort to have the building shuttered for up to 180 days.
To be deemed a nuisance, users of a property must be convicted of three “nuisance activities” within a six-month period. Such activity includes criminal behavior ranging from disorderly conduct to sexual abuse to weapons violations and drug crimes. Perhaps more applicable to commercial properties, underage drinking is also among the offenses listed.
“That’s to deal with any of the taverns that decide to be a nuisance,” Village Administrator Tim Gillian said.
A property can also be deemed a nuisance if it is not maintained in accordance with safety regulations. Zoning violations are not mentioned in the new ordinance.
Both the police chief and Calderone emphasized, however, that the goal of the ordinance is to gain cooperation from property owners to reduce crime in the community.
“In my experience, most landlords, even those with problem tenants, they want to be good landlords,” Calderone said. “In many cases they are operating without knowledge of what may be happening there.”
The details of an educational component that would teach property owners how to better manage their buildings have not yet been finalized. It also is not yet clear how property owners will be introduced to the new regulations. The mayor suggested a marketing strategy may be necessary so that people aren’t blindsided by the new regulations.
Likewise, the village isn’t yet sure if it will rely on punitive measures to entice property owners to cooperate. Calderone said there needs to be some level of reward for those who go along with the initiative, and perhaps the village could help market those locations as superior properties in the community.
“Most important in my mind is the creation of true partnerships between law enforcement, the building department and property owners,” Calderone said.
Enforcing the ordinance falls largely to the police department, and Officer Mike O’Connor will make it his full-time job starting the first week of December. Calderone said it could take the first six months of 2010 to fully implement the program.