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Local News

Romeoville, landlords at odds over crime-free housing requirements

'We just want to communicate our expectation to the landlords'

ROMEOVILLE – Vernon Coop, a landlord in Romeoville, is walking away with a $2,500 fine for violating the village’s new ordinance aimed at reducing criminal activity in rental properties, but he intends to continue challenging the law.

Coop and Romeoville officials have been in a legal dispute over his eight alleged violations of the crime-free housing ordinance for his two rental properties that are now vacant.

This week, the village dropped six of those charges, and Coop pleaded guilty to not having a rental license or completing a seminar required under the new ordinance. 

Even though Coop is selling his properties and he plans to not do business in Romeoville anymore, he said he intends to pursue a class-action lawsuit against the village over the crime-free housing ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1.

“It’s the only way we have of getting the laws changed here. It’s a bad law,” Coop said. 

Romeoville officials have said the crime-free housing program informs landlords what the village’s expectations are and forces them to have a vested interest in the community.

The ordinance requires that landlords obtain an annual residential rental license, attend a mandatory crime-free housing seminar, conduct criminal background checks and have a mandatory crime-free lease addendum in a rental agreement informing tenants that criminal activity is a lease violation that mandates landlords to initiate eviction proceedings.

But for Coop, the ordinance is burdensome for landlords because it imposes hefty fines for violations and requires additional fees and licensing. He also said the crime-free lease addendum makes landlords liable for tenants’ actions. 

Crime-free housing has caught on nationally in almost 2,000 cities since 1992, when it first began in Mesa, Arizona. The nonprofit International Crime Free Association provides training on the program.  

Palantine police officer Tamara Gulisano, a state instructor of the program, said she estimates that 138 agencies statewide have the program. She said she taught Romeoville about enacting a crime-free housing ordinance. 

“It’s been well-received. It’s lowered calls for [police] service for many of our properties,” Gulisano said.

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law also highlighted problems with crime-free housing, arguing such policies can reduce the supply of rental housing, displace crime victims and increase the number of vacant properties. 

Romeoville Village Manager Steve Gulden disagreed that crime-free housing is burdensome for landlords, saying it’s no different than property maintenance requirements for residents. He said the village has had no big problems with crime in rental properties.

Village officials stated on their website that ordinance doesn’t
promote discrimination or profiling.

Gulden said the village has more than 1,000 rental properties and has received less than a dozen complaints since the ordinance went into effect.

“We just want to communicate our expectation to the landlords. … It’s to keep your grass mowed and your house in good condition and you do the normal things we expect every resident to do from a property maintenance perspective,” Gulden said. 

Gulden declined to comment on Coop’s intention to sue the village over the ordinance.

Officials in other areas with some form of a crime-free housing or nuisance abatement policies have either said there are no downsides to having them or don’t have much disruptive activities in rental properties. 

Jeff Sterr, Joliet city’s neighborhood services director, said since 2011 the city has required owners of rental properties to sign a crime-free addendum to let tenants know they can be evicted for criminal misconduct. 

“There’s no downside. Most owners have this in their lease anyways. Those that don’t are happy to have it because it gives them an opportunity to stress ‘If you’re going to cause me problems, you can be evicted,’” Sterr said. 

Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek said the village doesn’t have a crime-free housing program but has a nuisance abatement ordinance that fines properties that have many occurrences of criminal or disruptive activity. The village also has code enforcement of rental properties to make sure they’re maintained well. 

“Our rental properties are pretty quiet,” he said. 

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