EAST PEORIA — City landlords could soon pay an annual fee to defray costs of a regular rental unit inspection program under consideration by the City Council. The program aims to assure renters that their living spaces are safe and compliant with city codes.

"The whole idea is to (inspect) properties to ensure quality housing in the city," planning director Ty Livingston said Monday. "And to make the program cost-neutral to the city." 

The cost of the program to the city could be anywhere between $60,000 and $75,000 a year, Livingston said, with the money to be recouped by an undetermined schedule of registration fees. A possible range of annual fees could be between $25 and $100 a unit, Livingston said.

"Right now that is unknown. All of that would have to be worked out," he said.

There are between 2,250 and 2,500 rental properties in the city, figures that do not include individual rental units — like counting a duplex as one rental property instead of two rental units. The cost to a property owner to register would likely be based on a sliding scale depending on the number of units that person owns. For instance, the owner of a 100-unit apartment building would pay less per unit than the owner of two-unit duplex or a single-family home.

Currently, code enforcement officials only have access to the exterior of rental units. The proposal would allow inspectors inside to check on life-safety shortcomings like faulty electrical wiring and plumbing, insufficient smoke detectors and a long checklist of other code requirements. Inspections would be done by existing city code enforcement staff — possibly including assistance from the East Peoria Fire Department — every three to five years on a rotating, and random schedule.

Some communities have established rental registration programs, minus the inspection component. Commissioner Gary Densberger said East Peoria should only consider both.

"If you don't include and commit to the inspection part of it  then the public safety benefit (is lost), and the benefit to the resident is gone," Densberger said. "It gives the renter the assurance that he is moving into a property that has at some point been inspected and is safe to live in."

Last week the council heard a pitch from uGRIDD, a Chicago-based data sharing and data management service. For an estimated $35,000 a year the service would create a data base of the city's rental units and perform billing and inspection-scheduling services, among others, Livingston said.

Clint Sabin, uGRIDD's director of local government services and a native of East Peoria, told the council the service, and its cost,  can be customized to precisely meet the city's needs.

"An optional feature is that people can use this platform to help make decision on where to live, perhaps even search available units and contact the owner," Sabin said. "More importantly tenants can look up the property to ensure it is registered with the city and if it has passed a safety inspection. This really gets to the heart of your concern that tenants are being taken advantage of with this feature," Savin said.

Livingston was directed to come up with a recommendation to present to the council by early June.

Commissioner John Kahl said the program has been discussed for a long time and that he hoped the topic wouldn't be pushed further into the future.

"Frankly," he said, "I think it's long overdue."

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.