Plan for more rental regulation in Joliet moves forward

A Joliet City Council committee on Thursday advanced new regulations for single-family home rentals.

The proposal was passed despite blistering criticism by the recently retired director of the department that would administer the program and warnings from staff that it could cost more than $500,000 a year to administer.

Councilwoman Jan Quillman said Joliet needs to get tighter control of single-family home rentals that are neglected and ruining the city.

"I've been here 40 years. I've seen this town go down, down, down," Quillman said, pointing to absentee landlords and deteriorating rental homes as a major problem.

"This is what we have to stop before the whole city goes bad," she said.

The regulations approved in a 2-0 vote by the Land Use and Legislaitive Committee still must go to the full council for approval and will likely be reviewed by a panel to include landlords to determine details like inspection fees.

The proposal, however, is a start on fuller inclusion of single-family homes in rental inspection programs, which has been opposed for years by landlords while supported by neighborhood groups.

Jeff Sterr, who retired in June as director of neighborhood services, told the committee that it has been solely the Cathedral Area Preservation Association (CAPA) pushing for the regulations and contended they are not needed.

"You should be ashamed that one organization has been able to co-opt this committee," Sterr said, arguing that only 1% of the rental violations in Joliet come from single-family homes. "It's time to base your decisions on actual facts and not false perceptions of biased organizations."

He at one point referred to CAPA proposals on the issue as "dribble."

His comments stirred Quinn Adamowski, former head of CAPA, to say Sterr "apparently never was working in good faith with us" as the organization in past years sought regulations for single-family rental properties.

"The reason this keeps coming up – this dribble– is because people on the near West Side and East Side are watching as property is dilapidating," Adamowski said. "This is not a CAPA issue by the way. There is not one neighborhood organization on the near West Side or the East Side that opposes it."

Several landlords at the meeting opposed it.

Joliet now has all multi-family rental property in the inspection program. Single-family homes are added if violations are found.

The proposal would require all single-family homes to be registered with the city. Inspections would be done upon registration and whenever a vacancy occurs. Inspection fees would be determined.

"I don't know that we could ever set a fee high enough to support a full-blown, single-family home inspection program without a subsidy from the budget," Director of Community Development Director Kendall Jackson told the committee.

Jackson said the program would cost "somewhere over half a million dollars to enforce and that doesn't include vehicles."

A previous staff estimate is that the city would need to hire four inspectors, a clerk and a supervisor at a cost of $672,000 a year for an inspection program with fees estimated to generate $145,000 in revenue.

Jackson noted that the department has vacant positions now that are not being filled because of a hiring freeze with tax revenues declining because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In terms of funding and financial support for the program, there are just too many unknowns at this point," he said.

But supporters of the proposal, including Quillman, said the city has waited too long to pull single-family homes into the inspection program.

"A lot of neighborhood organizations were working on this for a long time," Quillman said. "I don't want to kick the can down the road again. We have to get it to the council. We have to do something, and it has to start today."

Committee Chairman Terry Morris expressed concerns about the proposal but also supported it in a 2-0 vote. The third committee member, Don Dickinson, did not attend the meeting,