Citing unanswered questions, licensing committee agrees to meet again in June

Jia You and Jia You

During what was scheduled to be their final meeting Thursday night, members of Evanston’s Rental Unit Licensing Committee unanimously voted to meet again in June to keep debating what would happen to landlords if their licenses were revoked, among other issues.

The committee is charged with finalizing a proposed ordinance that would allow the city to inspect rental units for compliance with building and safety codes, including the “brothel law,” before issuing licenses to the properties.

Originally, the committee was to review the ordinance during Thursday’s meeting and produce a final report for further discussion by the city’s Planning and Development Committee, which consists of five aldermen. The Evanston City Council would then vote on the ordinance.

Communication junior Steven Monacelli, one of two Northwestern students on the committee, moved to have an additional meeting, citing ambiguity in the language of the proposed ordinance. He said the ordinance does not specify what constitute major violations that could result in revocation.

“I don’t feel comfortable supporting something that I don’t necessarily know or understand how it would play out,” Monacelli said.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) seconded the motion, requesting that the committee further discuss procedures the city should take after revoking a landlord’s license. The ordinance as presented Thursday does not specify the procedure, Wilson said.

Earlier during the meeting, Wilson also requested that the city’s legal staff further research the issue. Committee members unanimously approved his motion.

“That’s a really substantial concern people have,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we have a plan for that.”

Steve Griffin, the city’s community and economic development director, said the possible violations are too numerous to be listed in the ordinance. Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) suggested that the committee limit the topic of the upcoming meeting to the procedures that landlords would go through after revocation.

However, Monacelli proposed keeping the discussion open.

“Things might come up, new information might come to light,” he said. “I would just encourage as much critical discussion as possible.”

The proposed ordinance, as it stood prior to the meeting, stipulated that city manager Wally Bobkiewicz would have the final say regarding whether a landlord’s license is revoked.

“It does give me a bit of pause that the person who’s making the choice is a one-man band,” said Evanston resident and committee member Jane Evans, suggesting that a three-person panel review the matter instead.

A majority of committee members voted Thursday to have a panel preside over revocation hearings instead. Fiske, Wilson and Ald. Jane Grover (7th) voted against the motion. Assistant city attorney Ken Cox said the city code stipulates all hearings go before the city manager.

Andrew Roberts, an executive member of the Evanston Property Owners Association, said after the meeting that many questions remained to be answered.

“The biggest problems is that the entire ordinance, as it is, is not specific enough,” Roberts said. “It is not clear to … a layman what the demands on (the landlords) are.”

Monacelli agreed the language of the ordinance needs to be more specific.

“I’d like us to discuss the differences between what is egregious and what is not,” he said. “I will continue to ask for clarification.”

The committee will meet again June 14.