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Housing program » Building inspections and code enforcement

Inspection Program

Mount Prospect, Cook County

Systematizing inspections and providing a landlord-tenant ordinance ensures that all parties are prepared to participate in the code enforcement process.

Goal

Ensure better property maintenance and the safety and health of residents of all rental dwellings and surrounding neighborhoods.

Target

All rental dwellings.

Financing

Annual licensing fees ($40 per unit) totaling roughly $240,000 per year.

Success

  • Police calls continue to fall, and there was a 50 percent reduction of crime in the worst areas of the community within the first two years of the inspection program.
  • Upon implementation, Village officials noted a significant drop-off in the number of code violations.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity, as well as diversity within the village’s housing stock, has increased.

Lessons learned

Continuing to build a comprehensive program by adding Crime Free Certification requirements, expanding rental dwelling licensing to include single-family dwellings, adopting an ordinance to deal with vacant, non-complying structures and adding a Community Resource Center located in the area of the highest rental populations has helped the community through rough economic times to ensure persons have a safe place to live and can find the resources to correct housing deficiencies. The success of the systematic inspection program and a landlord-tenant ordinance permitting all parties to participate in the code enforcement process demonstrated that a pro-active staff and approach is needed to provide and improve the quality of housing.

Program background

In the 1990s, to address the rising costs of police and emergency services, largely due to the high level of calls from an area of the village with a large concentration of multi-unit dwellings, Mount Prospect created an inspection program for multi-family properties.

The Village established a Housing Committee to develop the inspection ordinance. This committee was active as part of a larger committee, called “Visions,” which was charged with updating the property maintenance code with input from residents and property owners, as well as implementing this inspection program.

The Village Board was initially reluctant to adopt an inspection ordinance because board members were concerned that it could diminish the affordable housing options in the village. The Board was also concerned about community opposition, resulting from a lawsuit that was filed against the Village over its landlord-tenant ordinance adopted over 20 years earlier. To address these concerns, the Visions Committee demonstrated that rental housing was being provided at market rates, yet at substandard levels. The Committee produced a video and photographs of the existing conditions, and took board members on ride-along inspections of the properties to show the disparities in the quality of housing and rents being charged. As a result, the inspection ordinance was developed with input from both landlords and the Housing Committee.

Adopting the inspection ordinance led to:

  • Clearer and more stringent village codes
  • Increased penalties for noncompliance
  • Increased support from the village attorney’s office
  • Increased access to legal information and rights education for tenants (Mount Prospect’s Dept. of Human Rights and schools distribute educational materials and administer seminars for tenants)
  • Increased communication within local government departments

How it works

Twenty percent of Mount Prospect’s housing stock is rental, and the majority of these buildings contain six or fewer apartments. The village employs two full-time inspectors who perform all inspections. The Village created a checklist for property inspections to ensure that inspectors conduct consistent evaluations and allow property owners and managers to prepare for the inspections. Inspections of the exterior of licensed apartment buildings are performed annually. Building interiors are inspected on a five-year rotation cycle, as well as on a complaint basis to investigate and resolve landlord-tenant concerns. Interior inspections are performed while tenants are residing in the units, although the landlords may contact village staff and notify them of a vacancy so the village can dispatch an inspector to examine the empty unit. Single-family homes are inspected on a complaint basis. The village issues a 30-day notification to landlords of planned visits by a building inspector. Landlords are required to provide written notification of interior inspections to their tenants at least 48 hours in advance of the inspection date.

If a code violation is cited during an inspection, the inspector will indicate the violations, required remedies, and a compliance deadline (generally 30 days). An incentive clause within the inspection ordinance allows property owners to forego or reduce the frequency of interior inspections if there is evidence during routine inspections that the property is well maintained. This incentive clause allows the Village to stop interior inspections on buildings of fewer than 20 homes or inspect only 5 percent of the apartments in buildings with over 20 homes, if prior inspections have demonstrated a good maintenance track record.

Financing

The village collects licensing fees ($40 per unit) totaling roughly $240 per year, which was originally used to hire two additional inspectors, a social worker and several police officers. The program supports three inspectors and a Crime Free Housing Coordinator.

Public involvement

Preceding the inspection ordinance, the Village of Mount Prospect adopted a landlord-tenant ordinance in the 1980s. Modeled after the City of Evanston’s ordinance, Mount Prospect’s landlord-tenant ordinance articulates the rights of landlords and tenants and informs both parties of the village’s regulation authority. The village requires landlords and property owners to provide a copy of these regulations to tenants with their lease. This process ensures all parties are educated regarding their rights and responsibilities.

In the 1990s, the village considered the creation of a special taxing district to help offset the high cost of emergency services. The property owners within the proposed district strongly opposed the proposal, so Village staff began working with them to develop common solutions and ways to reduce crime in the neighborhood. As staff found that many properties were being poorly maintained, they began a partnership with property owners that resulted in the creation of the inspection ordinance.

Mount Prospect’s inspection program is successfully promoted primarily through word of mouth. As tenants begin to see the improved living standards of their neighbors, they become aware of the services that are available to them through the Village and they call to report substandard conditions within their buildings. The resource center has also served for residents to report rental housing and tenant’s rights concerns anonymously.

Contact

Department of Community Development, Village of Mount Prospect
847-818-5328, comdevdept@mountprospect.org, www.mountprospect.org

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