By Hal Dardick
4:10 p.m. CDT, April 29, 2013
Aldermen today balked at a proposed ordinance that would have allowed the city to fine landlords up to $2,000 a day for failing to take steps to eradicate bedbugs, after building owners said the measure placed too much burden on them and not enough on tenants.
When it appeared that the handful of remaining aldermen in the City Council chambers at the end of a nearly 90-minute hearing were about to vote 3-2 against the proposal, Housing Committee Chairman Ray Suarez short-circuited the proceedings, saying he would hold the measure in committee.
"We're going to go back and sit down with our colleagues and see which part needs to be amended, and we'll go from there," Suarez, 31st, said after a joint session of the Housing and Health committees.
The measure already had been extensively revised, after many questions were raised about how well it would work at an earlier three-hour hearing in January. Representatives of several landlord groups said they supported the intent of the proposal, but they contended it still needed a good deal of work.
"The ordinance, as proposed, places the burden solely on the landlord of the building," said Brian Bernardoni, a spokesman for the Chicago Association of Realtors and the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago.
The proposal would declare bedbugs a public nuisance and require landlords of multi-unit buildings to hire licensed professionals to eradicate bedbugs in units where they are found. Landlords also must inspect neighboring units and, if bedbugs are found in those, provide additional extermination services.
The proposal also would bar landlords from renting units with active bedbug infestations. Failure to comply with provisions of the measure could result in fines of up to $500 a day for a first violation, $1,000 for a second and $2,000 for a third or subsequent violation.
To address concerns expressed by renters' advocates, the proposed ordinance bars landlords from ending a lease, increasing rent, decreasing services or suing a tenant because a renter has reported a bedbug infestation. If landlords take such retaliatory action, they would have to pay the renter two months rent, other damages and legal fees.
Tenants, in turn, are required to report bedbug infestations within five days of discovering it and must cooperate with the landlord in efforts to eradicate the pests. But it was unclear what penalties they would face, other than being subject to a lengthy eviction process that could allow infestations to fester and grow.