Dissenter: Policy punishes both good, bad landlords
URBANA — City council members on Monday night raised registration fees on landlords in a move they say will fund a new housing inspector to raise the quality of living conditions throughout the city.
The 6-1 vote happened over the adamant objection of Alderman Michael Madigan, R-Ward 6, who said city officials should look to their "much more prosperous" sister city to the west, which does not have a rental registration program at all.
The council has been discussing the proposal for months as they look to deal with problematic landlords who administrators say are often unresponsive to city code citations. Council members who supported the registration fee increase — which will generate about $48,500 annually in new revenue so Urbana can hire a third housing inspector — said the extra manpower will let them inspect rental housing more frequently and catch more code violations.
Annual registration for owners of single-family rental homes will rise from $50 to $55. Per-building charges for duplexes will rise from $60 to $70. Multifamily buildings will cost their owners $65 each, up from $45, and they will be charged an extra $16 for each unit, up from $12.
No landlords spoke on Monday night, but in previous meetings, their objections have centered on the fact that the fee increases penalize every landlord — good or bad — even though city officials say they are trying to focus on landlords who more frequently violate city codes.
Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said he has seen how city inspections can turn buildings around, and he thinks everyone should have a chance to live in decent housing.
Madigan, however, said the city should be looking to reduce the government burden on landlords who are trying to run a business and find a program "that's limited, something that does concentrate on quality of living with regard to some more distressed properties in the city."
Madigan said he is confident the fee increases will be passed on to residents of rental housing.
"The residents of Urbana, through their rent, will pay this increase," Madigan said.
Madigan, the only Republican on the city council, has been outspoken in his opinions on lowering or limiting tax and fee increases since he took his seat earlier this year. He has used a special deferment rule to delay votes on this year's quarter-cent sales tax increase and, earlier, the registration fee increase.
His objections were pointed on Monday night, when he told council members to look to Champaign, which responds only to tenant complaints and does not proactively inspect rental units beyond common areas. He said Urbana could learn a lesson from Champaign when it comes to economic development.
"I am saying that we ought to compare ourselves to our sister city, which is much more prosperous ... and they don't have a program," Madigan said.
He added that Monday night's fee increase penalizes everyone, instead of targeting the bad landlords the city is looking to keep in check.
"We are failing to address that on a monumental basis," Madigan said.