Flossmoor targets building violations with new rules for nuisance properties

Broken windows. Overgrown weeds. Peeling paint. Collapsing gutters.
 
All communities face the challenge of property maintenance, especially when some residents allow their homes to fall into disrepair. Deteriorating homes, both inside and out, are aggravating to neighbors and raise the likelihood of fire, injury, disease and health problems.
 
Flossmoor took steps this week to assure better control of property, residential and otherwise, that is deemed to be a chronic nuisance. The village board Monday approved two new ordinances that establish registries for chronic nuisance properties and vacant homes.
 
The board also revised Flossmoor’s municipal code, adding a chapter on administrative adjudication of local ordinance violations, including property maintenance issues. The updated code now specifies the powers of a local hearing officer, appointed by the village, who will have the power to enforce ordinances in a court-like setting.
 
With the passage of the two ordinances, and the addition to the municipal code, “we are on our way to a new system” that will allow Flossmoor to better regulate housing problems in the community, Village Attorney Kathleen Field Orr told the board. She said the hearing officer will now have “the power of a judge” in dealing with ordinance violations.
 
“We are trying to push the envelope,” Orr said. “I believe the law will back us up.”
 
Flossmoor is a non-home rule community and has always had limited powers in dealing with property issues. However, the state of Illinois increased those powers for towns without home rule three years ago and, through the establishment of the two registries, Flossmoor now has an avenue for regularly inspecting property that is considered a chronic nuisance.
 
The first ordinance establishes a chronic nuisance as a property where two or more nuisance activities have occurred in a six month period, and have been verified by either Flossmoor’s inspectional services division or the police department. In some cases, the nuisance activity has been reported and the property owner has failed to correct it. In others, the activity has reoccurred.
 
If two or more cases involving a property are adjudicated during a six month period, with a finding of liability or guilt, that property is also considered a chronic nuisance.
 
Property on the chronic nuisance registry is subject to an immediate inspection for health, safety or other nuisance violations, and a follow-up inspection after six months. Property remains on the registry for a minimum of one year, subject to a review after 11 months to determine whether the property should be removed from or remain on the registry.
 
Owners of chronic nuisance properties are assessed a $150 fee and must also pay that amount for a follow-up inspection. The village can also assess a $50 fee if inspections need to be re-scheduled.
 
Under the ordinance, a property can also be considered a nuisance if criminal activity has taken place on the premises. Flossmoor’s police chief can review police reports and determine whether criminal nuisance activities have occurred at the property, including drug offenses, loud parties or drinking by minors. The police chief can notify the owner that the property is in danger of being considered a chronic nuisance. According to the ordinance, the chief can demand a meeting with the property owner and request that the owner implement “a reasonable plan to prevent future occurrences of the activity or nuisance.”
 
Scott Bugner, Flossmoor’s inspectional services administrator, estimated that about 15 properties in Flossmoor would qualify for the chronic nuisance registry due to poor building maintenance. Most property maintenance violations are observed from outside the house, he said. However, problems inside a home are often observed during visits by the police or fire departments. For instance, that is when village officials are likely to see hoarding situations in a house. 
 
The second ordinance approved Monday establishes a registry for vacant property in the village. It sets up a program under which property owners are required to register vacant buildings and to provide contact information with the village.
 
Owners are required to pay a one-time registration fee of $150 to cover the administrative costs of enforcing the program. The property owner is required to maintain liability insurance equal to one-and-a-half times the estimated market value as determined by the Cook County assessors office. 
 
Bugner said vacant buildings are the most likely properties to become a chronic nuisance since they are often neglected when they are empty. Many vacant properties are under foreclosure, which generally means that the title is held by a lending institution.
 
When property maintenance violations are noted at a vacant property, village staff members spend “a considerable amount of time attempting to establish contact with a responsible party to address the complaints,” Bugner said.
 
Adjudication in a hearing process is another avenue that can lead to the repair of nuisance property. The village’s hearing officer can assess a fine up to $750 for property maintenance violations. The hearing officer can vacate those fines if repairs are made.
 
Bugner said the new program will go into effect in about 30 days. 

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A great community deserves a great newspaper. The HF Chronicle was created in June 2014 as an online publication. In December 2015 we began monthly print publication, too. Our mission is to chronicle the life of our community — news by, for, and about the people of Homewood and Flossmoor, Illinois.

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