Chicago Ridge landlord gets break from fines

By Kelly White

Chicago Ridge trustees have reduced by nearly 75 percent the fines accrued by an apartment building landlord who has been repeatedly cited for violating village ordinances over the past two years.

Helen Smola, landlord at the building at 10428 Natoma Ave., appeared before the Chicago Ridge Village Board on Aug. 21 to dispute what she believes was unfair amount of fines. Smola since August 2010 has been cited nine times for garbage, debris and furniture being placed alongside her building’s trash container, according to village officials.

The village last month fined Smola $10,000 under its Nuisance Abatement Ordinance, which places responsibility for abating nuisance activity on landlords and holds them accountable for what happens “on, or in association with, his or her property.” “Offensive littering” is among the violations defined under the ordinance.

The board, however, acting on a proposal by Trustee Brad Grove, voted unanimously to reduce the fine to $2,650 — $150 for each citation, $270 in administrative costs, $500 in attorney’s fees and a $530 “penalty fee.” Smola has agreed to pay $265 a month for 10 months, with the agreement that with the receipt of the final payment all citations will be stricken from the record.

“There were pieces of furniture lying out in the backyard for over six months,” said Chicago Ridge Building Commissioner Mike Witt told the board.

Chicago Ridge has since August 2010 sent Smola 17 seventeen letters ordering her to appear in village court, and she failed to appear all seventeen times, Witt said. Smola claimed she received one phone call and no letters from the village, and that trash was left outside of the trash container four times at the most and with small amounts of garbage, not furniture as the village claimed. Witt showed village officials several citations signed by either Smola or members of her family.

Smola told the board she is a well-respected landlord who has put more than $150,000 into the property including a new roof, windows and new furnaces. It would be impossible for her to watch over the trash containers on a daily basis, she said.

“We should have been more persistent in trying to get you to come to court, but with the 17 letters and giving you the credit of being a good Chicago Ridge citizen, we accepted you would you take it upon your own to come in when you received either the citations or one of the letters, especially once they started accumulating,” Trustee Jack Lind said.