BLOOMINGTON — Nearly 800 city code violations found at an apartment building destroyed by fire and at five other rental properties — all operated by two landlords who top the city's chronic offenders list — are prompting the City Council to review Bloomington's rental inspection program.
"We're going to review how these things go to (the city's) administrative court and what action is taken there to see if we want to revamp that as well," said interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen. "Perhaps what we can do is fix the program by putting some teeth in the administrative court process."
Deputy Corporation Counselor Angela Fyans-Jimenez, who prosecutes code violations for the city, suggested monetary penalties for landlords who are chronic offenders.
The vast majority of landlords in Bloomington are in compliance "and comply readily when there are issues pointed out," said Assistant City Attorney George Boyle.
"Bloomington has probably less than 10 landlords who continuously come back to (administrative court) for various properties," said Fyans-Jimenez. The Pantagraph has submitted to the city a Freedom of Information Act request seeking those names.
"These two have five rental properties on Front and Grove (streets) and the Gettysburg (Drive) property that have the most significant amount of violations out of all the properties that I have prosecuted for the City of Bloomington," said Fyans-Jimenez.
Gettysburg is where a Feb. 10 fire displaced 29 people.
Wayne Pelhank, as owner, and Ed Duran, as property manager, have 572 pending code violations for five apartment buildings in the 900 blocks of West Front and West Grove streets.
City inspectors found another 226 violations during a Jan. 30 re-inspection of the 12-unit building at 1101 Gettysburg Drive.
"Yes, I think we need to look at the inspection program to see if it's adequate, but it seems like this is just off the charts," said Renner about the violations related to the six Pelhank/Duran properties. "When we have red flags like this we may need to figure out a way to handle them more expeditiously."
"The council also could consider adding more inspectors, but right now, because of budget constraints, that hasn't been moved forward," said Rasmussen.
The council's review could come at a work session in a couple of weeks, he added.
Currently, there are two rental inspectors to handle the 12,000 rental units the city is responsible for inspecting.
The city ordinance requires periodic inspection of rental properties "and our intent is to maintain a three-year cycle and we'll pretty darn close to that cycle," said Bob Mahrt, interim city community development director.
Since the 2015 administrative court's creation to deal with code violations, the city's focus has been on getting landlords to correct problems rather than penalize them, said Fyans-Jimenez.
The city has a fine of $50 per violation per day, but if the problem is fixed, a violator does not have to pay the fine; just the $110 court cost.
"Potentially there could be some monetary penalties put in place for the chronic offenders," said Fyans-Jimenez. "Nobody likes a monetary penalty."
She added, "We truly want them to abate the violation, but we could put a penalty in place on a trial basis and see how that gets people to abate the problems."
Pelhank and Duran are scheduled to appear in administrative court Wednesday on all of the alleged violations.