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Plenty of work yet to do on rental inspection program

ROCK FALLS – City officials had hoped to have a rental inspections program ready to present to the City Council in a couple months, but it’s looking as though it could take longer.

The program is being developed in tandem with Sterling in an attempt to keep inspections consistent on both sides of the bridge. There are about 790 owners of rental properties in Rock Falls, and just less than 400 in Sterling. Many of the landlords own property in both cities.

“We were going to shoot for June, but there is still a lot of work to do,” City Administrator Robbin Blackert said Wednesday during a meeting of the Rock Falls Building Code Committee.

The graded inspection system would be similar to the one used for Section 8 government-subsidized housing. According to an early draft available at a Feb. 26 meeting with local landlords, the inspections would be assessed as a flat one-time fee of $25 for 1 to 4 units. The most that could be paid would be $125 for 41 and more units, plus $5 per unit over 42.

Committee member Jim Schuneman expressed fears that the city could be biting off more than it could chew with the program.

“This is too big and there are too many loopholes,” Schuneman said. “I think we’re throwing a big net over a small problem.”

A major impetus for the program was the difficulty inspectors face in getting into properties where there are problems. These inspections would be done whenever a tenant leaves, so properties would be vacant when looked at.

“Getting into the houses has been a big problem, but maybe the focus needs to be narrowed and we make it just about health, life and safety,” Schuneman said.

The subjective nature of the inspection process is a topic that has come up with both officials and landlords.

The cost of the program is still being studied. The plan now calls for hiring a part-time inspector in Rock Falls, while Sterling believes it has enough resources to handle the extra work.

Officials say the program isn’t about generating revenue; it is about addressing a long-neglected program.

“I’m fine with there being no revenue if it serves the purpose of cleaning up bad rentals,” Blackert said. “We’ve been lax in this town for a long time, and this program will have a ripple effect if it’s done right.”

Committee members agreed that the next step is producing a finalized grading system.

“So much of this is subjective,” Chairman Brian Snow said. “We really need to see a grading card before we go any farther.”

The program would be drawn up in ordinance form and would have to be approved by both city councils, possibly in a joint session.

What's next?

Discussion about the rental inspections program will continue at the next Rock Falls Building Code Committee meeting at 5:15 p.m. May 7, in the north-end meeting room at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St.

The agendas will be posted at and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

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