By Jordan Cohen
Mayor Ralph Infante disclosed that the city is conducting talks with several landlords in the wake of council’s passage of an ordinance earlier this month that holds landlords responsible for payment of tenants’ delinquent utility bills.
“We’re working with them on writing policy,” Infante said, adding that he expects the policy covering enforcement of the law to be completed “in a couple of weeks.”
Despite protests from numerous landlords, council unanimously passed the bill Jan. 5 authorizing the city to shut off service, to refuse to initiate or restore it, or to place a lien against the property for the amount that is owed if the landlords fail to pay the delinquencies. The mayor said the policy under discussion will cover each of the categories of penalties. The ordinance takes effect in early February.
Infante said one of the landlords meeting with the city is Jason Altobelli, owner of a Niles real- estate company. During the meeting when the ordinance was passed, Altobelli had asked council to “work something out” with the landlords “so the city can collect its money.”
The city provides electricity, water and sewer services, and the mayor said at the time that Niles is losing $150,000 a year because of unpaid utility bills. The delinquencies generally occur when tenants are either evicted or move away and ignore their debts.
Infante said the response he has gotten from the general public has been favorable. “They are happy we did this, and homeowners think it’s a good thing,” the mayor said. “The only people who are against this measure are the landlords.”
Councilman Ed McCormick, D-4, said he has been “hearing it” from angry landlords, but added that a number of residents have told him taxpayers should not be responsible for covering the unpaid bills.
When the ordinance was passed, at least one landlord warned that the new law likely would wind up in court. Thus far, there has been no indication of pending legal action. Several council members said they were informed that a group of landlords met earlier this week to discuss their next course of action.