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Landlords call meeting to discuss options

Association has talked to law firm, president says

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 8:43 a.m. CDT
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Rock Falls Building Inspector Mark Searing

STERLING – Sauk Valley Landlord Association is sponsoring a public meeting to discuss the proposed rental inspections program for Rock Falls and Sterling.

The meeting is planned for 7 p.m. May 7 in the activities room at Coventry Village, 612 St. Mary’s St.

The landlords will also explore their options for responding to the proposed program to which the sponsoring organization has voiced its opposition, said Rod Kleckler, president of the Sauk Valley Landlord Association.

“The best option would be to get the aldermen of these cities to drive around to properties with us and get a realistic idea of what this program will and won’t do,” Kleckler said.

The organization has not ruled out a legal response, if the program is instituted.

“We’re looking for a report to come back soon from a local law firm,” Kleckler said. “From our initial contact, they didn’t like the language.”

The wording of the rough draft was perhaps the most contentious issue at a Feb. 26 meeting in Rock Falls between the landlords and government officials from both cities.

Rock Falls Building Inspector Mark Searing and Sterling Building and Zoning Superintendent Amanda Schmidt brought copies of a draft of the proposed ordinance to that meeting. During the meeting, several landlords said they feared that vague language in the ordinance would leave too much room for interpretation and be difficult to enforce.

Kleckler believes the landlords’ input brought city officials back to the drawing board.

“I think we convinced them that the language needs work,” Kleckler said. “They realized some things were poorly worded and took it back to committee.”

The building departments are still working to tighten up language and tweak some details, Searing said.

“We did take a lot of their comments to heart,” he said. “We’re cleaning up some things, and a big thing now is to do the grading system.”

As an example, Searing said code referring to storm windows was recently changed to screens, to reflect that new windows no longer have storms. The landlords have cited ambiguous words such as “adequate” and “substantial.”

During a recent meeting of the Rock Falls Building Code Committee, members agreed that the next step is producing a finalized grading system.

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

The graded inspection system would be similar to the one used for Section 8 government-subsidized housing. The early draft called for a flat, one-time inspection fee of $25 for one to four units. The maximum fee would be $125 for 41 and more units, plus $5 per unit over 42.

The landlords say they also disapprove of being subjected to extra fees and paperwork to address problems caused by a very small minority of rental property owners.

During the February meeting, many owners, including Earl Stevens of Rock Falls, cited the economic hardships faced by local landlords and tenants.

“I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and I just can’t make enough money anymore,” Stevens said. “We don’t need this extra cost. Ninety percent of the owners in here take care of their properties.”

The cities cite the difficulty inspectors face in getting into problematic properties. Such inspections would be done whenever a tenant leaves, so properties would be vacant when looked at.

The cities are developing the ordinance together, in an effort to keep inspections consistent on both sides of the bridge. There are about 790 owners of rental properties in Rock Falls, and just fewer than 400 in Sterling. Many of the landlords own property in both cities.

The next Rock Falls Building Code Committee meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. May 7 at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St.

Inspections program update

A public meeting about a proposed rental inspections program for Sterling and Rock Falls, sponsored by the Sauk Valley Landlord Association, is planned for 7 p.m. May 7 in the activities room at Coventry Village, 612 St. Mary's St.

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