Markham landlords say they were made to pay fines racked up by previous tenants

ByAnn Pistone and Jason Knowles WLS logo
Thursday, June 6, 2024
Markham landlords say they had to pay fines levied on former tenants
Two landlords in south suburban Markham said they were made to pay fines for violations on or near their properties racked up by previous tenants.

MARKHAM, Ill. (WLS) -- What if you had to pay city fines that weren't in your name?

Two landlords in south suburban Markham turned to the I-Team after they said they have been forced to pay parking fines racked up by their tenants.

Markham's new mayor said that landlords are responsible for tenants' fines issued in and around their property if their tenant doesn't pay up.

Dale Bragg bought a home in Markham in 2022. He said, after fixing it up, he wanted to rent it out at an affordable price. But now he's selling instead.

"It's not worth the headaches of staying in the community of Markham," said Bragg.

Bragg said the city wouldn't give him a residential rental license until he paid fines and citations that are in his previous tenant's name but were issued on or near his property. Those fines and fees total $5,200. All but one was vehicle related, like citations for expired registration, no parking, no city sticker and a derelict vehicle.

"The violations aren't property related," Bragg said.

Starting this year, Markham is reinforcing an ordinance that states "any and all debt owed to the City of Markham, which includes any police tickets that are associated with your properties, will be subject for immediate payment from the owner, even if said debt was issued to current or past tenants."

Bragg said he had to pay up before being able to get an inspection to sell then home. He said the city negotiated the ticket prices down to $1,800.

"This is another thing that would chase investors away," he said.

Markham landlord Karen Seals agrees. She said she was stunned when she was told she had to pay previous tenants' fines in order to buy her occupancy permit.

"I couldn't believe it. The village charged me a fine that was created over 10 years ago by previous tenants because they didn't have a Markham village sticker on the vehicle," she said.

Seals was told to pay nearly $1,500. Like Bragg, all but one ticket was for a tenant's parking fines on or near the property.

After negotiating with the city of Markham, the bill was lowered to $400.

"Many of us want to sell and get out," said Seals. "You're going to have more boarded up houses in Markham."

But Markham's new mayor, Roger A. Agpawa, said the bottom line is the tickets are tied to the landlords.

"The thing in question is not the name of the tenant, the thing in question is who the property owner is. That's really what should not be lost in this. And they have responsibility of who they put in their properties and who is there on their behalf," Mayor Agpawa said.

So why doesn't the city go after the tenant?

"Because the tenant isn't the ultimate," the mayor said. "That's why they call them landlord, because they're the lord of that land and that property, and they're the ultimate owner to it and they're ultimately responsible."

Holding landlords responsible for tenants' fees may not be a common practice. The I-Team contacted landlord associations and villages near the town of Markham did not find any other towns enforcing a similar law.

"We have to make sure that there's ordinances and policies in place so we can hold landlords accountable," said Derrick Champion, Markham's city administrator. "If their tenants jump, you know, leave in the middle of the night, we still have to be able to collect fees."

"It shouldn't be the burden of investors or homeowners to come out and look and see if a car is registered properly," Bragg said. "If there's issues inside the house, I can see that. But things are out of our control, no, we're not the police and those are thigs we shouldn't be having to do."

The mayor of Markham added that he does not believe enforcing the law will drive landlords away. He thinks that it will encourage them to find better tenants and better monitor their properties.