City asks off-campus students to clean up their act

Matt Lopas

Following complaints of city code violations, Evanston has appealed to Northwestern students living off campus to clean up the neighborhood surrounding the university.

In form letters sent to 28 rental units thought to be occupied by students, Human Relations Director Paula Haynes told tenants of complaints about their property and invited them to learn more about the city’s landlord-tenant ordinance.

The letters are a response to the report first presented to the city Oct. 26 by Daniel Garrison, an NU classics professor who lives on the 1200 block of Simpson, that documents instances of potential city code violations, including piles of trash, cars parked on lawns and litter in alleys.

These residences are in a rectangular area bounded by Sherman and Ridge avenues and Simpson and Emerson streets. Garrison describes this area as the worst part of a “slum” neighborhood.

“This area is a trashed-out area that is rented out primarily by students,” Garrison said.

Garrison’s report, which he continually updates, documents 40 to 50 instances of potential city code violations. The report includes photographs of the possible offenses and the addresses at which they occurred.

The issue may not just relate to students, Haynes said. She said one point of the letter was to inform students about their rights with landlords.

“I thought perhaps students might be getting a bad rap,” Haynes said. After looking at the pictures, Haynes said she thought many problems resulted from landlords failing to preform adequate repairs.

In the letter, Haynes asks students to e-mail her to set up a time to talk or let her know if they would be interested in a workshop on the landlord-tenant ordinance. She said she thinks many students do not even understand the laws intended to protect them.

The ordinance specifies those rights held by each person and how landlords must take care of property.

Associate Student Government also made recent efforts to help students with landlord issues. Jada Black, ASG’s External Relations chairwoman, released a 90-page Landlord Library brochure last week that documents tenants’ rights and offers advice for interacting with landlords. Another recent addition is the ASG lawyer, who can advise students about landlord-tenant issues.

So far, Haynes said the response to her program has been disappointing, with only a few poor responses to the letters, which she said have brought only negative comments.

“I hope people don’t think I’m out to get them,” Haynes said.

One student who received the letter was Jordan Heinz, ASG president and Education senior. Heinz, who lives on the 800 block of Foster Street, said he found the letter condescending toward students.

In the letter Heinz received, one phrase underlined in red ink read, “some believe that you the students are the real problem.” Heinz said he has not contacted Haynes.

Garrison agreed that students are not the only problem.

“There are two big issues,” Garrison said. “These properties are poorly maintained by absentee landlords and the city fails to support its laws.”