Jail time for messy yard criminals? Almost!
New ordinance aims to shore up building safety
By John Byrne, Tribune reporter
8:41 p.m. CST, January 25, 2011
In response to the recent deaths of two Chicago firefighters in a roof collapse, the City Council will consider a proposal to allow owners of vacant buildings to be jailed for up to six months if building violations cause somebody to get hurt or killed.
Ald. James Balcer, 11th, said he introduced the plan to give teeth to city laws that require owners of abandoned buildings to make repairs and secure them so people can't get inside.
Firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum were killed Dec. 22 when a roof collapsed as they searched an abandoned laundry business in the 1700 block of East 75th Street. The building, where homeless people were known to seek shelter, had caught fire. Another 17 firefighters were hurt.
Records showed the building's owner had previously been cited by the city for 14 separate building code violations.
"I think it's important that we have it to send a message to people that own buildings that are abandoned that you have to keep your property up or you will be held accountable," Balcer said after the Buildings Committee voted Tuesday to send the proposal to the full council.
Under the plan, a building owner can be jailed for one month to six months if the property is found to be in violation of any of several standards for securing a vacant building, or the structure is found to be "imminently dangerous and hazardous" because of violations to other building codes, and anyone "suffers a severe injury or death" as a result.
Currently, city building codes only allow building owners to be fined up to $1,000 for violations.
The ordinance also would require a building owner to be sent to jail the first time a forcible felony is committed in an open vacant building that does not have a security guard on duty. The city currently has to first warn the building owner that a guard has not been on duty before the owner can be jailed.