Aurora property standards inspector cited for violations
By Stephanie Lulay email@example.com June 27, 2013 8:47PM
This rental property, owned by Reymundo DeLeon at 402 S. Fordham in Aurora, is labeled the "worst looking house in the neighborhood," according to neighbor Bob Mangers on Jun. 27, 2013. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 30, 2013 8:27AM
AURORA — Three City of Aurora employees were placed on administrative leave Thursday for the mismanagement of a property code violation case that cited one of the Property Standards Division’s own employees.
A West Side rental property at 402 S. Fordham Ave. owned by Reymundo DeLeon, a quality of life inspector in the city’s Property Standards Division, was originally found to be not in compliance with the city’s rules in September 2011.
As a quality of life inspector, DeLeon’s job with the city is to enforce the city’s property standards rules.
Chief of Staff Carie Anne Ergo said Thursday that she could not confirm which employees were placed on administrative leave pending investigation, but that she expected the investigation to be completed within the week. She said the city does not publicly discuss personnel matters.
Fed up with the unsightly view of chipping paint from the front window of his neighboring home, retired Aurora Police Sgt. Bob Mangers made a complaint with the city about the 402 S. Fordham house this year.
Mangers said the Fordham home was “the worst looking house in the neighborhood.” His main concern was that the rental home would bring down property values in the entire neighborhood. Mangers and his wife Sue attempted to sell their 1950s home last year, but eventually pulled it off the market.
Growing frustrated after two years of minor fixes on the Fordham house, Mangers took his complaint to Jim Pilmer, who had been recently brought back on at the city as supervisor of the city’s Property Standards Division. That’s when he learned the man who owned the home was also a property inspector for the city.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. He works for Property Standards?’” Mangers said of the homeowner. “I don’t really care who lives here. Just keep the property up.”
On Tuesday, Mangers took his complaint to City Council. He said the ongoing property violation by a city employee hired to enforce property codes would be similar to him consistently speeding as a police officer and turning around and ticketing others.
At the meeting, Mayor Tom Weisner immediately said he was “upset” about how the situation was handled, and vowed that the city would take action to address the issue.
A complaint concerning the Fordham rental property was first received through Aurora’s customer service call center on Sept. 1, 2011, according to city records.
On Sept. 12, 2011, an inspection was completed and a compliance case was opened. Because late fall was approaching and the compliance issue concerned the house’s exterior, the property’s next inspection was scheduled for spring. During spring and summer, this type of complaint would normally be reinspected after 60 days, Ergo said.
On April 9, 2012, the property was found not to be in compliance with the city’s rental property code after an inspection, according to city records.
On June 14, 2012 and on Sept. 28, 2012, the property was twice found not to be in compliance after inspections.
Rosario DeLeon, Rey’s older brother, the city’s Chief Operations Officer and Rey’s boss’ boss, said the complaint about the home Rey owns was brought to his attention in mid-May of this year.
“I immediately expressed my disappointment with my brother and other staff members involved,” Rosario said. “I then gave direct orders to have it rectified by mid-June.”
Mangers said Wednesday that Rosario DeLeon’s supervisory position over the superintendent of Property Standards Division, the division that Rey DeLeon works for, is “like the fox watching the hen house.” He said the Fordham home was painted last week.
Weisner became aware of the still-unresolved property violations on Sunday, he said, and personally visited the house.
“He was extremely concerned to learn that Mr. Rey DeLeon’s home had outstanding property code violations for nearly two years and ordered an immediate investigation into these allegations,” Ergo said.
On Wednesday, after Mangers complained to City Council Tuesday night, the property was referred to administrative hearings for non-compliance.
“While the vast majority of work had been completed, the inspector found a small area of the house that still needed to be painted and noticed that necessary repairs to the balcony rail remain undone,” Ergo said.
Hearings are generally scheduled six to eight weeks after the notice is sent. If found guilty, owners not in compliance are subject to fines ranging from $50 to $500 per day, per violation as recommended by the city’s attorney.
On Wednesday, Rey DeLeon was also newly cited for a junk and trash violation, a complaint he has seven days to resolve, Ergo said. A reinspection is scheduled for July 3.
The 33 employees in Property Standards managed 16,874 property maintenance cases in 2012; 1,428 of those cases remain open. Ergo said it is not unusual for the city to work with cited homeowners that may have personal or financial hardship that prevents them from resolving complaints in a timely manner.
Prior to being promoted to the quality of life inspector position in 2006, Rey DeLeon was hired at the city as a part-time parking meter checker in 1998 and promoted to solid waste inspector in 2000.
Rey DeLeon could not be reached Thursday.
BREACH OF TRUST
In response to the situation, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Weisner issued an Executive Order placing a moratorium on one-year property inspection waivers for all employees responsible for the enforcement of property standards violations.
Weisner has also ordered a full independent review of the Property Standards Division’s policies and procedures in the next 60 days.
“We expect final recommendations to include safeguards to ensure that all city employees who own property in Aurora are held to the same standards we hold all other property owners,” Ergo said.
During the city’s 2009 layoffs, the city eliminated the position of superintendent of the Property Standards Division. Citing a need again for more oversight in the department in part due to increased rental license activity, city officials brought Jim Pilmer back on at the city as superintendent of the division. Until he left his city post in 2009, Pilmer was director of parks at the city and previously served as an Assistant Chief of Staff and director of downtown services.
From 2008 to 2012, the number of rental properties inspected and licenses issued increased 66 percent from 3,060 to 5,062, according to Ergo.
In a statement, Rosario DeLeon Thursday afternoon wrote that the situation was not handled in a proper manner and that he was sorry that it caused a breach of trust with the community.
As head of the city’s Operations Division, Rosario said he took full responsibility for the incident and would work to put measures in place to ensure the situation will not be repeated.
“The poor judgements and lack of professionalism displayed by certain members of my staff in this matter are not reflective of the service that is rightfully expected by citizens and taxpayers,” Rosario wrote.
According to city records, Rosario DeLeon also owns four rental properties. He said Thursday that he would never use his position to influence inspections on any properties, including those that he owns.