by Long Hwa-shu
Upholding the age-old adage that “A man’s home is his castle,” a group of rental property owners in Zion is challenging the city’s ordinance to inspect their properties.
The property owners, many of them members of the Lake County Property Investors Association, are planning to file suit against Zion’s rental licensing ordinance calling it “unnecessary,” “big government encroaching on their rights,” “cost-prohibitive,” and “creating an undue burden” on them. The association, however, is not a plaintiff of the suit.
Spear-heading the drive is Terry Boone, a rental property owner in Zion, who has retained an attorney to fight the ordinance and has put up $20,000 of his own money to foot the legal expenses. He is urging rental property owners, similarly situated, to join him as plaintiffs in the pending law suit to be filed in Lake County Circuit Court.
Zion Mayor Al Hill defended the ordinance, stressing that it is “a life safety issue “ that the city is concerned about. Zion, he said, is trying “to upgrade its housing “ environment because of an un-proportionally large number of Section 8 rental properties the city has.
Boone who owns two apartment buildings with 21 units and a single-family house in Zion pointed out that similar ordinances in other municipalities across the country have been challenged by irate owners with apparent success in some cases.
Just last month, he said, a Minnesota property owner refused a government inspection of “their rental property.” And according to Boone, the courts, finding no probable cause, refused the city’s request to gain access to their property.
Citing another case, he said in September, a federal court ruled an Ohio municipality’s rental inspection ordinance “unconstitutional.”
“It’s time that we, Zion property owners, stand up, like our colleagues in Minnesota and Ohio and say no to costly, time- consuming, burdensome government,” said Boone in a note to other Zion rental property owners.
William Powers, owner of RTO Property in Waukegan, echoed his sentiments. Powers who owns 15 single family houses in Zion contends that the city went beyond other municipalities in imposing heavy costs under its ordinance.
“It’s an unnecessary burden,” he said, pointing out that Zion’s licensing fee at $75 doubles that of Waukegan.
The inspection and the associated penalty, he surmised, are not “conducive to harmonious relationship between rental property owners and the city.”
In defending the ordinance, Mayor Hill said the city is concerned about health and safety. “What we are looking for are not stains on the carpet, but things like (proper) electrical equipment, smoke detectors and whether there are cock roaches.”
“I don’t think it’s a burden for the property owners, we make it as easy as possible to have the inspection done,” he said.
Hill, former director of the Zion Park District who became mayor in May 2015, pointed out while Zion has 24,000 residents or only 3.8 percent of Lake County’s population, it is burdened with 35 percent of the Section 8 vouchers issued by the Lake County Housing Authority. Section 8 is a federal program to provide rental assistance to eligible low-income families but administered by local housing authorities.
Many of these rental properties, he said, are owned by out-of-towners who he claimed “don’t keep up with their properties.”
Attorney Daniel K. Sinclair of Gurnee, retained by Boone to represent a coalition of landlords of residential properties in Zion, has written to Ianson seeking to extend the deadline for rental property owners to obtain a certificate of compliance to May 2 “to allow adequate time for evaluation and preparation.”
According to Boone, some Zion landlords have been contributing $75 to $100 per unit to fight the ordinance. Meanwhile, he is planning to contact other rental property owners through mass mailing.
While acknowledging a legal fund has yet to be set up because of “the fast moving nature of the case,” Boone assured that “every dollar will be transparently accounted for.” Boone can be reached at email@example.com or 847-774-8259.