Toughen apartment inspection

The Champaign City Council’s vote against expanding its property inspection capabilities is a sad sign that the renting situation in the area will not improve any time soon.

The Council declined to impose a $12 per unit fee and a $40 per building fee to add an additional property inspector and allow the city to inspect the common areas of apartment buildings every three years instead of on a five-year cycle.

This is in stark contrast to Urbana, which charges a smaller $10 per unit fee and the same $40 per building fee and still manages to inspect each individual apartment, common area and single-family rental home and duplex on a 3-year cycle.

In its disapproval, the Council cited its unwillingness to raise rent at all. While this is a noble sentiment, the one-dollar a month increase tenants would pay is not much of a burden compared to the value of a regular inspection, especially when rent prices are going up significantly more than that based on market conditions.

Council member Tom Bruno’s arguments about tenant privacy don’t hold much water either. After all, Champaign landlords are not required by city code to give tenants notice when they enter apartments unless it’s spelled out in the lease. A city inspector looking for structural and safety violations is unlikely to be any more of a threat to privacy, especially if a simple inspection notice is given to residents beforehand.

With more than 3,000 violations in two years based on only common area inspections and submitted complaints, it’s reasonable to assume that there are hundreds, possibly even thousands, more problems that are yet to be uncovered in individual apartments.

Keeping the status quo is an increasingly dangerous gamble. The council’s reluctance to strengthen its inspection process will only allow bad landlords to continue to shirk their responsibility to provide safe and adequate housing and cement Urbana’s superior rental reputation. Champaign can and should do better.