The city of Joliet is facing backlash over proposed changes to its rental inspection program.
At a recent meeting of the Joliet Land Use and Legislative Committee, the matter drew criticism from a number of landlords and realtors.
A city memo shows current program revenues of $170,000 annually, while direct labor expenditures amount to more than $1 million annually.
Neighborhood Services staff has been tasked with creating changes to accommodate the addition of single-family rentals to cover the actual costs of the rental inspection program.
“We continue to drag this issue on and on endlessly debating about whether single-family rental properties should have a mandatory government inspection, despite the following fact: the vast majority of property maintenance code violations concern owner-occupied housing, not rental properties, “said Gideon Blustein, of Three Rivers Association of Realtors.
The proposed changes, if approved, are anticipated to increase inspection costs to landlords.
“It’s hard enough to do business, to try help people to make margins, and to keep things affordable,” said Karen Robertson, a realtor, landlord and resident of Joliet.
“Increasing inspection costs on landlords will result in higher rent for Joliet renters,” he said. “The increased inspection costs are basically a tenant tax.”
Bob Nachtrieb, of the Cathedral Area Preservation Association, made a pitch to the committee, suggesting that only landlords that fail inspections should be assessed fees, based on a graduated schedule.
“If that happens, then we will be focusing on the problem properties,” he said. “Through the increased fees, we will be giving possible enough money to pay for the inspection program, which means it’s not on the good tenants, the good landlords or the taxpayers of Joliet. It’s on those who are not complying in the first place.”
Jeff Sterr, director of neighborhood services for the city of Joliet, said he views the proposition will not suffice.
“The program is going to need a complete rework,” he said. “It’s going to take a month or two to investigate all the neighboring communities and bring something a little more actionable and a little easier to swallow for all involved.”
Blustein said he believes the proposed program changes would hurt the city of Joliet.
“You’re considering spending at least $5 million in property tax dollars and implementing a new tenant tax to create more bureaucracy and discourage investment in the city of Joliet,” he said.
Chairman Terry Morris said something has to give.
“I don’t want anyone to feel that we’re trying to put a burden on anyone or trying to tax anybody just because we can,” he said. “We’re trying to make the neighborhoods better.”
Several people at the meeting acknowledged a number of mechanisms are in place to address issues that arise in the city and said the key is to enforce the rules.
Aside from ordinances, the city utilizes the GoRequest App, a channel that enables people to submit service requests and lodge their concerns or suggestions.
Staff anticipates presenting comprehensive ordinance amendments at a later date to the Joliet Land Use and Legislative Committee.
The rental inspection program has not seen changes in fees or programming since 2012.
Moratorium for video gaming permits under review
The committee also reviewed the prospect of imposing a moratorium on video gaming permits.
The measure, if approved, restricts the issuance of Class V Permits east of Route 59.
Staff has received a number of requests asking the city to allow video gaming terminals at area businesses.
“They keep popping up all over the place,” said Chris Regis, interim corporation counsel.
Regis said there are several issues with the city issuing video gaming permits.
“The city is really starting to get saturated with them, even though the demand does seem to be there,” he said. “We are starting to get a lot more inquiries in the mayor’s office about bistros. … Remember, the spirit of the video gaming act was to help struggling businesses, which it has for a lot of these places. The machines have been a Godsend, but there’s also a social cost to it.”
The moratorium, if approved, would be in effect for a year.
Regis said another reason to limit the issuance of Class V Permits is Harrah’s Casino revenue has been impacted negatively.
“These machines do cut into our casino revenue in town,” he said. “We get a smaller cut from the video gaming revenue than we do from our casino revenue. So, it is partially to blame for our reduction in casino revenues we’ve had to deal with in town.”
The city does not want to stifle commercial development by imposing the moratorium west of Route 59.
Members of the Joliet City Council are anticipated to review the matter at a later date.
Smoking regulations discussed
Also at the meeting, city staff provided an update on smoking regulations to the committee.
The proposed revisions strive to address alternative nicotine products ingested by minors.
Changes to city code stipulate it is a violation to provide substances of this type to anyone under the age of 18.
Vaping has made headlines nationally and locally as a growing problem in recent months.
The city intends to assess fines to violators, in accordance with state statutes.