A landlord registration program will not move forward as proposed after Mayor Brian Sager and members of the Woodstock City Council said they wouldn’t support it.
More than 100 people gathered at a City Council meeting Oct. 3, many of them to voice opposition to a program that would have required residential landlords to register with the city of Woodstock, have their rental units inspected and pay fees. A related crime-free housing ordinance also was up for discussion.
Public comment lasted for nearly four hours, with landlords and tenants complaining the program would amount to government intrusion in their private lives, raising rents and business costs along the way. Supporters of the program said it would help the city crack down on dilapidated rental properties while also gathering contact information on landlords, some of whom live outside the area.
Following the comment period — which was so crowded it had to be moved to Woodstock High School’s auditorium — Sager said he wouldn’t support the program, although he left open the possibility of creating a voluntary registry.
“I appreciate where you all are coming from,” Sager said. “… I am not, at this stage, willing to support an inspection program. I am not, at this stage, willing to support a mandated crime-free housing program. I can tell you that I am not going to bring this forward on the agenda, except for that volunteer registration program, during my tenure as mayor.”
The decision by Sager, which was applauded by most of the crowd, effectively ended the city’s push to implement a mandatory registration program, at least for now.
In 2013, a group of tenants appealed to the City Council for help in dealing with landlords who they said ignored basic health and safety standards and held their security deposits hostage when they complained.
At the time, council members said there wasn’t much the city could do, citing Woodstock’s lack of home-rule authority. Since then, the city has become a home-rule community, and officials had said they would look into how City Hall might use its new powers to regulate the rental market, which makes up more than a third of all housing in Woodstock.
Joe Starzynski was a councilman when the group of tenants approached the city.
“When someone walks up here and says, ‘Oh, [the city] already has all the remedies,’ you know that’s not true,” Starzynski said to the council. “You saw what happens. We had the tenants come here and say that the costs that they had incurred, the legal costs, kept them from pursuing [recourse]. Some landlords are like that. You know they’re out there.”
City administrators were considering charging for the registration program, a sore spot for landlords and tenants alike. Under the proposal, landlords would have paid a $20 fee for each unit inspected by the city. In most cases, inspections would have taken place once every four years. A flat annual rate of $15 for registering one to 10 units, $25 for 11 to 20 units and $50 for 21 units or more also was proposed.
Landlords indicated they would pass the fees along to their tenants and said adding more regulations and costs would harm the local housing market. The program was opposed by the Heartland Realtor Organization, which covers greater McHenry County.
“This is a very strong, problematic thing that’s going to hurt people,” said Richard Ahr, a longtime Woodstock landlord. “I’ve had my buildings for sale for nine years. I can’t sell them. My taxes are too high. No one wants to move to Woodstock because our taxes are too high.”
Norm Siegel recently moved to Woodstock. He rents a condo near the Square, and while he agreed with some parts of the proposal, he was against city inspections.
“I am really unhappy about my Fourth Amendment rights being proposed to be invaded,” Siegel said. “… There’s got to be a happy medium here. Registering landlords is vital. I think it’s important. But that responsibility should be taken up by the city, and not by the landlords having to pay money, who are then going to increase our rent.”
While council members generally agreed with Sager’s decision not to pursue mandatory registration, some said they would like to look at other programs aimed at rentals. Councilman Jim Prindiville, himself a Woodstock landlord, said he thinks optional training for landlords could be helpful. Councilman Mike Turner asked that the city continue to consider a crime-free housing initiative, which could force tenants to be evicted if they commit a crime in their rental units.
“For me personally — I can’t make this happen on my own — I’m not ready to abandon the crime-free [issue]. I’d like to at least ponder it,” Turner said. “… I still have a desire to understand whether there’s potential there.”