Local landlords pan plan
JANESVILLE A suggestion to study ways to improve the city's rental stock—possibly with systematic inspections of units and registration fees—angered landlords who showed up in force at Monday's city council meeting.
Council members voted 5-2, agreeing to direct city staff to review existing practices and look for ways to improve the current system. Most members, though, said they would likely not support additional inspections and fees.
Council President Kathy Voskuil and council members DuWayne Severson, Sam Liebert, Jim Farrell and Deb Dongarra-Adams voted to direct staff to begin a study, while council members Matt Kealy and Russ Steeber voted "no."
One option outlined in a staff memo had been a suggestion to charge landlords $30 per rental unit for regular inspections. The money would go toward hiring more property inspectors.
Most landlords who spoke Monday said such programs cast too wide a net and smack of big government, although several spoke in favor of further study.
Kealy said he considers himself a good landlord, adding he would live in any of his units.
"And those landlords who can't say the same thing, shame on you," he said.
Not all landlords are doing a bad job, he said.
"Let's go after the slum landlords," Kealy said. "Let's not go after everybody."
Steeber called a systematic inspection "overkill," adding the fee simply would be passed on to tenants.
Voskuil said she suggested a study because the city works on a complaint basis and is reactive rather than proactive. She also questioned the "efficiencies of our reactiveness."
"I wondered if there was a better way to go about looking at landlords who do not take proper care of their property, if there was some way we could look at a better system," she said.
Voskuil said good landlords are out there, but the city also has spent millions in its attempt to remove blight. She wondered if that would have been necessary if the city was more proactive.
She hoped "all the stakeholders" could come together to find solutions.
Liebert said discussion could focus on the city's effectiveness, its internal communications and education to tenants and landlords.
"I don't think I'd be in favor of a large-scale government program, going into every single property," he said.
Farrell called a discussion "healthy" but also said he would hesitate to inspect all properties.
Deb Dongarra-Adams liked the idea of a summit that would include those people involved.
"Maybe the good landlords have a way to tell us how to deal with the bad landlords," she said.
Severson said fees and regulations would send "horrible" signals to any business. He especially wanted to stay away from creating more city jobs.
One tenant, Heidi Holden, 462 N. Terrace St., was concerned inspection cost would be passed on to the tenants much like increases in trash collection and water fees have been.
Irene Stewart, 4404 N. River Road, said most landlords—including herself—maintain their properties and screen their tenants. She said regular inspections would treat all landlords "like a bunch of first-graders. One of them is caught chewing gum but the whole class has to stay after."
Staff should instead deal with the problem owners, she said.
Doug McClay, 3905 N. Spring Hill Drive, said city staff inspects his properties regularly for various reasons, and he's always in compliance. He said he'd rather spend the money he would be charged for his 192 units—$6,000—on his properties.
Douglas Marklein, a landlord and city council candidate, wondered why the city would create a program that affects all landlords when only 11 percent cause problems.
Several other speakers urged the council to pursue a study.
Kay Deupree, 419 S. Franklin, encouraged the council to study what other cities do.
Nancy Stabb, 1200 S. River Road, spoke on behalf of the League of Women Voters. She said her group has researched the issue and members recently visited Beloit, where a similar program has been working for 15 years.
The city should study how a program can be implemented to benefit landlords, tenants and the city, she said.