CITY HALL — A City Council joint committee Tuesday approved compiling a list of scofflaw "problem landlords" and arranged to have the list published online by the end of the month.
Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis testified before the Zoning and Budget committees that the city had issued 3,362 citations last year on violations of nonfunctioning smoke alarms, lack of heat or hot water, rodent infestation and dangerous porches.
"It was clear we need to do more," Davis said, citing four children's deaths in a Sept. 8 fire in a Roseland building that lacked working smoke alarms.
Eric Smith, father of one of the dead children, told aldermen that it was hard to go on living, knowing the deaths could have been prevented through smoke alarms.
"We just want someone to protect us," Smith said. "We have to do something about this."
"We have to find a way to protect these tenants," said 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale.
Adding that he'd stop "bad landlords" from collecting rent if he could, Beale said, "We have to go after them with everything we have."
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Budget Committee, said the ordinance was designed to "protect tenants from problem landlords not in compliance with the city code."
According to Davis, two findings of "liable" within 24 months in administrative hearings after citations have been issued would land a landlord on the "problem landlord list" of scofflaws. They would be restricted from obtaining new business licenses, zoning changes and building permits while on the list. They would also have to submit lists of tenants in the properties, so the city could contact them about their options.
Davis said he hoped the list would serve as a deterrent by allowing prospective tenants to identify problem landlords before signing a lease.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) argued that a landlord could conceivably wind up on the list inadvertently, for instance by failing a couple of porch inspections with regulations that recently changed.
"Once you're on the list, it will be very difficult to get off it," Tunney said.
"It's very easy to get off it through compliance," Davis countered.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the list earlier this month after a rash of violations involving insufficient heat during a cold snap.
Yet the Roseland fire deaths in September dominated debate in the joint committee meeting Tuesday, and Austin announced she was dedicating the ordinance to the four children killed in that fire.
Austin said landlords typically ignore city citations, and "they still do not correct the problems, and they end up in tragedies such as these."
The ordinance was sent to the full City Council for passage Wednesday, and Davis said the first list of problem landlords would be published on the Department of Buildings website Monday.
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