Owners of multi-unit rental buildings in Skokie may have to cough up some extra cash soon as village trustees inched closer to implementing a controversial licensing program for local apartment dwellings.
Supporters and detractors peppered up the normally arduous proceedings at Monday’s village board meeting with spirited speeches on the proposal that would impose an annual $25 per unit fee on the approximate 1,200 multi-unit buildings in Skokie. Village staff and their supporters believe forcing owners to be licensed will lessen crime and keep up property appearances.
After the testimony, the village board agreed to the concept with one amendment as Trustee Don Perille successfully argued co operative buildings as well as owner occupied two flat buildings should be exempt from the proposal. (Condominiums are excluded from the ordinance with the belief that associations can handle their own internal problems.) An ordinance will now be written up with the precise language and is likely to come back before the board for a final vote sometime later this year.
“I do think this is a step forward for the village,” said Trustee Randy Roberts. “This is not solely about crime. It is also about maintaining property standards and the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”
Breaking down the numbers into specific categories, Assistant Village Manager John Lockerby noted 88 percent of the approximate 1,200 village buildings that would be assessed in this program are four units or less. Moreover, there are almost 5,000 units in general.
Landlords or their designated person will be required to attend a training session on village guidelines about ownership. There will be a $10 cost to attend those sessions.
Staff believes this program will cut crime and ensure that building will be neatly maintained if this program is in place.
Landlords will also be asked to have their tenants sign a crime free lease addendum. With crime prevention in mind, the $25 fee will go toward hiring a police officer who will be specifically charged with working within the confines of this program and to check out lighting and landscaping and serving as a go between staff and landlords.
“The intent is to have proper supervision within the village,” Lockerby said. The cost of hiring the additional officer is just over $122,000 and that is approximate amount of money the staff believes will come in as a result of the program.
Amid speculation that this idea had racial overtones, Lockerby said 53% of the renter head of households in Skokie are white according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Asians, blacks and Latinos follow in that order.
“We as the village of Skokie are proud of our diversity and this proposal has nothing to do with race,” Lockerby said.
Not surprisingly, many building owners who say they have not had problems at their dwelling are balking at paying the extra money.
“You are punishing the good landlords,” said building owner Dana Taylor.
Echoing Taylor’s sentiment was fellow owner Floyd Bednarz. “This is an unfair solution to a non-existent problem,” he said. “I have had a crime clause in my contract ever since I owned that building. I do backgrounds checks, too, because I want to make sure that if I do have people in my apartment that they are people that I am going to be proud to have in Skokie.”
But there were some owners who do believe this idea has some merit.
“They are not asking for an unreasonable fee,” said property owner Marda Dunsky. “It can be written off as the cost of doing business.”
Dunsky is a member of the upstart community group Skokie Voice which is advocating for the licensing program to be implemented.
Similar initiative already running in Palatine -
Lockerby said 1,700 communities across the country spanning 43 states have similar programs in place. One of those areas is Palatine.
While crime statistics related to Palatine were not immediately available, Toby Roberts, the Neighborhood Services Field Director of that village, has said the licensing program has worked well in Palatine since its inception in 1990.
“This program is keeping the value of the property up,” Roberts said. “Single family homes that are rented tend not to get the maintenance they need so us being out there tends to help prevent the properties from becoming an eyesore.”