City Council to vote on rental licensing ordinance

    The Evanston City Council will vote on an ordinance Monday that would require all landlords to qualify for rental licenses in order to manage properties.

    Under the ordinance, city officials would be able to run inspections of every property in the city, and landlords who don't maintain safety standards may not be issued licenses until they make the necessary improvements.

    "All businesses need licenses to operate — and what this ordinance would do is treat properties like businesses," said Communication senior Steven Monacelli, one of two student members of the Rental Unit Licensing Committee, which proposed the ordinance.

    The new code would require landlords to disclose information to the city, Monacelli said, to hold them accountable for the condition of their properties.

    Many of the city's realtors, however, have launched a campaign to block the ordinance, which North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors government affairs director Howard Handler says is "disproportionately impacting and targeting Northwestern students."

    Handler, along with Evanston Property Owners Association director Andrew Roberts, published a five page open letter to seven top members of the University administration in sharp opposition to the ordinance. In the letter, which calls rental licensing "an unnecessary, duplicative, convoluted, misunderstood regulation," Handler and Roberts argue that the ordinance would give the city the power to launch rigorous inspections of student property and even evict renters who aren't in compliance with the controversial three-unrelated rule, or "brothel law."

    "According to the City, if four unrelated persons are living together in a four bedroom apartment, one person will have to vacate the apartment or the license can be revoked," reads the letter. "The impact of this on NU students is quite concerning; we are sure you feel the same."

    But Steve Griffin, director of community and economic development for the city of Evanston, rejected the idea that this ordinance would target students.

    "There's no truth to that at all. This is a program for properties all over the city — that's over 13,000 dwellings city-wide," Griffin said. "I can state emphatically that this is not directed at Northwestern students."

    Griffin also emphasized that "the program's only goal is safety compliance," and that the city wouldn't be out to evict any students. "If a landlord were to say, 'Hey, I’m going to turn in plans to fix this electrical issue or dangerous stairwell or dangerous steps,' we would give them time to do that," Griffin said. "Our focus is safety and compliance, not just revoking or not issuing a license.”

    As for the idea that the city will use the ordinance to enforce the "brothel law," Monacelli said that the new code, if passed, could have the opposite effect.

    "In all my meetings with top city officials, including Mayor [Elizabeth] Tisdahl, they've all made it clear that if this ordinance is passed, enough regulation will be in place that they can effectively take the three-unrelated rule off the books for renters," Monacelli said. "So it's in our best interest to comply with the city here."

    And if the ordinance is passed, and the "brothel law" stays on the books?

    "I have no reason to believe the city officials would be misleading us about that," Monacelli said. "And if they are misleading us, there’s a municipal election in the spring, and they’ll hear from us then."

    Julie Kliegman contributed reporting to this article.

    Update: The Evanston City Council voted Monday to bring the ordinance proposal back to the city staff for reworking. A new version of the bill will not be re-introduced at least until the next City Council meeting on Oct. 22.


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