Landlord licensing committee drops 180-day penalty for over-occupied properties

Jia You

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Committee members disagreed Thursday over the penalty for over-occupancy during the second meeting of the city’s Rental Unit Licensing Committee.

The committee is charged with finalizing a proposed ordinance to license the city’s rental units. The ordinance, as presented Thursday night, would allow the city to inspect properties for compliance with building and safety codes, including the so-called “brothel law,” before issuing a license to the landlord.

Committee members unanimously voted down a 180-day revocation as penalty for over-occupancy or violations of the city’s nuisance premises ordinance. This came after some landlords on the committee and Weinberg senior Jared Cogan pushed back against the 180-day waiting period during the first meeting March 22.

The revised ordinance would speed up the process for landlords to apply for a new license, said Steve Griffin, the city’s community and economic development director.

“Why not allow an application process where we would look at that … as opposed to ‘OK, you can’t apply for 180 days’?” Griffin said.

He also suggested not categorizing over-occupancy as an “egregious” offense more likely to result in revocation. Instead, he proposed that landlords could be given a period of time during which they could correct the problem.

“The point of this is to work on a scheme of compliance of other laws and work with landlords to have a schedule for that,” Griffin said. “Revoking is something that nobody wants to do.”

Evanston resident and committee member Jane Evans said landlords who violate the three-unrelated rule should not be allowed to “free ride” and wait things out.

“One of the reasons I believe licensing is better than registration is the teeth piece of it,” Evans said. “It is very important to me that (over-occupancy) still remains a violation as it does.”

The committee also unanimously agreed to set violation of the city’s nuisance ordinance as a condition for revocation. The nuisance ordinance, passed in 2007, requires landlords to take action against any illegal activities in their rental units, including evicting tenants.

“The police like this tool as another way to deal with problematic properties,” Griffin said.

But Evanston resident and committee member Paul Arntson said linking licensing to the nuisance ordinance could put too much pressure on landlords.

“Right now the landlords are powerless to get them out,” Arntson said. “If we are going to put all the pressure on these landlords to do things fast, they can’t.”

Communication junior Steven Monacelli, one of two Northwestern students on the committee, said it is important that the city does not revoke a license for occasional violations to the nuisance premise ordinance.

Monacelli also expressed disappointment about the discussion of over-occupancy.

“We are being told that things will change with regards to the three-unrelated law, but once again no real direct answer in terms of what those changes will be and how they will work in this bill,” Monacelli said.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), who moderated the meeting, said the three-unrelated rule was “not an item for discussion at this committee.”

Howard Handler, government affairs director of Illinois Association of Realtors, said after the meeting he has concerns about the schedule.

“It’s going too fast,” Handler said. “There are some good questions being asked, but a lot of hard questions are not.”

The committee will meet again May 17, when it will produce a report and put the ordinance to vote at the Evanston City Council after revision. Committee member Dana Carroll did not attend the meeting Thursday or last month.