The DeKalb City Council has given final approval to a new Crime-Free Initiative to hold landlords accountable for refusing to take action to prevent crime at their properties.
The initiative approved unanimously at the Oct. 24 Council meeting stiffens penalties for landlords found to have allowed crime to occur at their properties. Along with additional police officers and new technology, the initiative is part of the City’s strategy to combat serious crimes, including weapons offenses.
The plan includes clear protections for crime victims. The program does not apply to police calls related to domestic and sexual violence, crime victims, child abuse or calls from disabled individuals and those in need of police services. Additionally, landlords who take retaliatory action against crime victims face a minimum fine of $1,000.
There are also protections for landlords working to create safe places to live. These provisions make sure landlords are not fined when they show efforts are being made to prevent crimes. Third Ward Alderman Tracy Smith, a retired DeKalb Police officer, said the City would prefer to work cooperatively with landlords.
“I think the key here, … for someone who has been on both sides of this now, is just communication,” said Smith. “I think landlords want to reach out to us and I think, at least for my years, that was always great to have them on your side.”
City Manager Bill Nicklas said promoting this cooperation will be the role of the new Director of the Crime-Free Bureau.
“The new Director is going to have to build relationships, and they have to be strong working relationships, and not just based on phone conversations and e-mails, but getting out, getting eyeball to eyeball with units, buildings, people who are involved in our housing scene,” said Nicklas.
William Heinisch, a member of the Board of Directors for the DeKalb Area Rental Association (DARA), requested that the initiative be allowed to move forward last night. Since it was introduced last month, the City has been working collaboratively on the plan with DARA, an organization of landlords and property managers.
Through the development of the program, careful attention was given to ensuring the initiative follows state and federal laws. The program does not require evictions and, under the Illinois Human Rights Act, a prior arrest record cannot be used in the screening of potential tenants.
Photo: At the Oct. 24 City Council meeting, Third Ward Alderman Tracy Smith (left) said communication with landlords will be key in making the new Crime-Free Initiative successful.