Safety key in updating ordinances

By Jenette Sturges Staff Writer

A new program aimed at improving the safety of tenants in Urbana was approved by 5 to 1 by the Urbana City Council Tuesday night.

Urbana’s new Rental Registration Program will expand on current ordinances in place that regulate the safety of apartments and rental homes by requiring property owners to register with the city. The program also requires regular inspections of rental units by city inspectors.

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The inspection program would be self-funded though a registration fee paid yearly by landlords that would vary based on the number of units in a building.

Residents who spoke at the meeting in favor of the program recounted its promises of safety and clear delineation of the rights and responsibilities of property owners and renters.

“It’s not all that we wanted it to be, and it won’t solve every problem, but it is important,” said Esther Patt, coordinator of the University’s Tenant Union. She suggested that more frequent inspections of rental properties would create safer environments for renters.

The rental registration program was supported both by the Chancellor’s office and by a resolution passed by the Illinois Student Senate.

Safety was the chief concern raised by those in favor of the registration program. Councilman Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, supported the program, mentioning the recent carbon monoxide leaks in December in campus Gabe’s Place apartments.

“We are one of the few cities in the state with a large college presence that does not have a registration ordinance,” Smyth said. “Our goal is safer housing for renters.”

Still, a major concern for many local homeowners was maintaining the historic character of the city’s older neighborhoods.

Community members spoke out against the new legislation, asserting that overzealous inspectors could create laundry lists of ordinance violations that would make it more cost-efficient for landlords to demolish their older homes in favor of newer, more crowded multi-family buildings.

“Property owners will decide to cut their losses now, rather than pour money into the old buildings for renovations,” said Urbana resident Brian Adams in an address to the council. He further described his fear that new buildings would resemble “large student filing cabinets.”

Other residents voiced similar concerns, and some proposed a moratorium on the demolition of old buildings in Urbana’s historic neighborhoods.

Also discussed at the meeting was the planning of a new Meijer store in the city’s 6th ward. A meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. at St. Matthews Lutheran Church in which citizens are encouraged to discuss neighborhood issues.