Though students left the streets of Evanston relatively quiet for a week, talk of the three-unrelated ordinance and building over-occupancy law didn’t get to take a poolside-sitting, margarita-sipping spring break. The inaugural meeting of the Rental Unit Licensing Committee proved the issue far from dead, taking up a significant portion of the group’s discussion.
Scheduled during the one week between January and June most students would be unable to attend, the discussion also demonstrated that concerns about the now infamous “brothel law” have spread further than just the student body. The committee, voted into existence by city aldermen, convened with the aim to create a licensing program the city can use to ensure renter safety and hold landlords accountable. Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl appointed the committee's 14 members, which include two student representatives.
The committee considered an ordinance that would require Evanston landlords to apply for a license for each individual rental unit before renting it out. The city would then have the opportunity to deny a property licensing due to any outstanding health, safety or zoning code violations. The proposed ordinance would require inspectors to survey all of Evanston’s estimated 10,000 rooms, apartments or houses available for rent.
“I think the meeting went very well and the students were ably represented and there will be more students in our next meeting,” Tisdahl said, after mentioning that she “didn’t realize” Northwestern’s spring break conflicted with the meeting when scheduling it. Both student representatives, juniors Steven Monacelli and Niabi Schmaltz, were not in attendance. ASG off-campus caucus member Jared Cogan sat in on the meeting as the student representative.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of discussion that went on because if you look at the agenda, it was really just an intro to what the proposed ordinance is,” said Cogan, a Weinberg senior. “This committee is not out to harm students.”
Though the committee was explicitly formed to address rental licensing practices in Evanston, committee members raised questions in regards to the city’s three-unrelated ordinance. Members suggested that landlords should be required to provide renters with floor plans stating the square footage and intended purpose of each room and that lessees should put in writing that they will inhabit the rental space in compliance with city regulations.
Howard Handler, director of government affairs for the North Shore – Barrington Association of Realtors has been following the city's handling of the three-unrelated ordinance since tensions boiled to the surface last winter. The rental unit licensing ordinance, he said, is just another part of the argument.
“I think the city staff and some officials have demonstrated that they can’t administer the laws they have now and they’ve been targeting students," he said. "Giving them more power is not only insane but dangerous to property owners and tenants, specifically Northwestern students.”
According to Handler, the proposed city law is another way Evanston is trying to "push Northwestern students out of certain neighborhoods.”
Though no new legislation was passed during the meeting, a more concrete idea of the ordinance will be presented when the committee meets again on April 19. Ardent followers of the three-unrelated ordinance will have to wait until the committee agrees upon this new ordinance to hear more news, according to Tisdahl.
“We are going to have these meetings and come up with a landlord licensing ordinance so we know what tools we have to enforce things, and we are going discuss the three-unrelated, and I think we’re going to come up with a resolution for that as well,” Tisdahl said after the meeting.
“But we’re going to do this first,” she said. “That’s our next agenda item.”