Police make first use of nuisance law off campus

Scott Gordon

Four Northwestern students have been asked to leave their apartment after the City of Evanston fined their landlord in the first enforcement of a nuisance ordinance passed more than a year ago.

This move by police follows intense debate over how to control off-campus student disturbances after a series of Fall Quarter incidents.

Edward Crespo, who owns and rents apartments on the 2200 block of Ridge Avenue, was fined $200 last week in failing to curb what the city calls the disorderly conduct of four NU juniors renting one of his apartments.

His property was first declared a “nuisance premise” under the ordinance after the students were ticketed twice for noise violations, resulting from neighbors’ complaints that the students were hosting a loud party.

But according to the student residents, police have come to their apartment five times since Fall Quarter began — often when no more than four people were in the apartment, usually just watching TV.

“I personally feel like we’re being harassed here by a neighbor who is trigger-happy with his telephone,” said Education junior David Grossman, who also lives in the apartment. “We lived in the same building last year and we didn’t have the police come once.”

The tenants said that on one of the occasions, they were having a party with only eight people in the apartment.

Crespo asked the four students in the apartment to leave last week, and they are now in the process of moving out into another apartment.

But the tenants said they don’t blame Crespo. In fact, Education junior Jeff Wilson, one of the residents, said he is glad Crespo didn’t choose to formally evict them, because a legally obtained eviction goes on a person’s permanent record, where future landlords and employers can see it.

“I personally chose to talk to the students and parents and just explain it to them,” Crespo said.

But the students said they think the city’s actions have been absurd and unfair.

“Once you get put on the nuisance list, no matter what, if you get called, they have to give you a ticket,” Wilson said. On one occasion, he said, officers came to his apartment and determined the residents weren’t making much noise, then left. But they later returned under orders to ticket them anyway.

“The police can’t use their own discretion (in responding to calls),” Wilson said.

The ordinance, passed in November 2002, allows the city to declare a property a nuisance premise if two or more offenses occur on a property within a six-month period. Under the ordinance, landlords of nuisance properties are required to meet with Evanston Police Chief Frank Kaminski and present plans for “corrective action.”

Crespo did submit a plan to Kaminski in the fall after his property was deemed a nuisance premise, but officers were called to Crespo’s property again Dec. 7, prompting the fine.

“We will go after property owners who fail to maintain control of their tenants’ behavior,” Kaminski said in a press release. “The overall objective of this ordinance is to improve the quality of life for all residents.”

Crespo said the problem results in part from NU’s proximity to single-family housing.

“It all depends on where the school is located,” said Crespo, noting that schools more known for partying wouldn’t have had this issue.

The Daily’s Maridel Reyes and Andy Nelson contributed to this report.