Complaints about yard waste and housing in disrepair continue to rise in Urbana; Property inspections behind schedule goal

Rental property and nuisance complaints have soared in Urbana over the past few years, records show. 

The records, obtained via Freedom of Information Act Request, show a total of 1,002 complaints were submitted to the city from Jan. 1 to Oct. 6 last year — more in just 10 months than the previous year’s total and marking a significant increase each year since 2020.

Since 2020, there have been a total of 3,142 complaints, which have increased each year. More than four out of five complaints, or about 83%, involved nuisances, which can include yard waste, overgrown lawns and lots in disrepair. About 11% of the complaints were tenant complaints and 6% were non-tenant complaints, which are complaints submitted by individuals who are not residents of the rental units.

There are only two people regularly inspecting rental properties in Urbana, but Nicholas Hanson, the building official for Urbana’s Community Development Services Department, said there are over 8,750 units for rent in the city. That’s 66% of all housing, according to Census data, that shows rental property primarily surrounding the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Urbana is home to nearly 40,000 people.

Thomas Dwyer, a code compliance inspector for Urbana, said systematic inspections are a requirement of the rental license all landlords hold with the city, but his office is short-staffed.

“We check all structural members and compare what is there to the minimum code standard,” Dwyer said of the inspection process. “If visual inspection of the property does not meet the minimum code standards, then a report is sent to management with a deadline to complete all violations.”

Dwyer said that in the instance of a failed inspection, “the property will not be approved for occupancy and should remain vacant until repairs are met to meet at least the minimum code.”

Once a property has been inspected, each property receives a ranking: Class A, B, C, D or F. Generally, a rank of D and F indicates unsafe or unlawful conditions according to the Urbana Code of Ordinances

As of the most recent inspection cycle, 83% of properties in Urbana received a Class B ranking, meaning the “building has violations of applicable city codes, but the violations do not pose an immediate threat of danger to the life, health and safety of the occupants of the building.”

Dwyer said each complaint is treated as a separate incident. If management does not comply with the codes, the inspector will issue citations until code compliance is met.

Inspection process running behind city scheduling goal

Hanson said the combination of too few rental inspectors and too many properties makes the inspection process longer. 

According to the city’s website, it has “a goal of completing inspections of all rental properties within a three- to five-year cycle.” However, Michael Frank, the other code compliance inspector for Urbana alongside Dwyer, said that because their office is short-staffed, these inspections realistically happen every six to eight years.

In the meantime, landlords are responsible for inspecting their property. 

Although rental registration and inspection programs are in place, some residents still complain online that the properties they rent are allegedly falling apart. Wobbly or missing handrails, broken appliances and unfulfilled maintenance requests are just a few common issues residents write about online.

Other than Dwyer and Frank, there are four other inspectors as needed: one electrical inspector, one plumbing and mechanical inspector, one building inspector and one nuisance inspector. Both Dwyer and Frank have an annual salary of about $65,000.

The systematic rental inspections are based on a rental zone map made up of 21 zones. They begin by inspecting all rental units in the first zone and work through zone 21, the last zone, in order. Dwyer said this method is used to ensure property maintenance inspections are completed on all registered rentals in Urbana.

Some landlords stand out among complaints

The top 10 property owners with the most complaints between Jan. 1, 2020 and Oct. 6, 2023.

Abbas Kazemi, the property owner with the most recorded complaints, said the reason there are so many complaints is because tenants haven’t been paying rent on time.

“Last couple of years we have not been getting good tenants,” Kazemi said in an interview with

Kazemi had 27 complaints across five properties since Jan. 1, 2020, to Oct. 6 last year. He is 85 years old and plans to retire once the current leasing year ends. 

Dwyer said that there tends to be ebbs and flows when complaints come in against specific landlords.

“It is not uncommon to receive multiple complaints about one leasing company and then we won’t hear anything about that one leasing company at all for an extended period of time.”

Data shows Neil Fotzler had 23 complaints submitted to the city from Jan. 1, 2020 to Oct. 6 last year, the second highest overall. All but two of the complaints came from a single property on South Poplar St.

Ross Lane Holdings, LLC is just one case behind with 22 complaints across six properties.

These landlords are often the target of complaints on social media, particularly on the r/UIUC subreddit. Some posters share personal experiences with their landlords, while other posters try to raise awareness, start conversations and ask for advice.

Among the top ten most complained about property owners is Green Street Realty.  They have several social media posts from tenants warning against signing leases with them. Despite numerous attempts to reach the general manager, CU-CitizenAccess was unable to reach them for comment.

Complaints also rising in Champaign

About half of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students live in off-campus housing or commute in 2023 according to data provided by the university last fall. But some students say off-campus living standards between the two towns are very different.

Champaign Code Compliance Manager Tim Spear said there has been an increase in complaints for the City of Champaign.

“It used to be … We’d never broke 200 [complaints],” Spear said. “Now, we’re consistently above that.”

Champaign is over double the size of Urbana, with nearly 89,000 residents living there. Census data shows that 44% of the city’s housing is made up of owner-occupied units, with the other 56% being rental properties.

Spear said a systematic program for all rental inspections does not yet exist in the city. Individual units are only inspected when a complaint is submitted to the city.

Champaign has a Multi-Family Common Area Inspection Program during which inspectors will “identify property maintenance and International Fire Code deficiencies in multifamily common areas, including hallways, stairwells, laundry, mechanical and storage rooms, and other areas commonly shared by residents.”

Spear says there is a team of five code compliance inspectors to handle these complaints, as well as one environmental inspector.

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