Evanston aldermen delay vote on landlord licensing ordinance

Rachel Janik, Reporter

The Evanston City Council chamber was standing room only on Monday as city officials debated a controversial rental licensing ordinance that would require Evanston landlords to obtain special licenses to operate.

Property owners, residents and landlords packed the room to voice their opinions about the ordinance, which many said places an unfair burden on those who own and rent out property.

The ordinance would reinforce existing policies that require landlords to register with the city, as well as safety and nuisance regulations with the goal of making such rules easier to enforce. However, many opposing the proposal called it redundant and pointlessly restrictive.

Those in favor of the ordinance said that it would ensure landlords follow the city’s regulations and provide safe environments for tenants.

Communication senior Steven Monacelli, a former Daily columnist, approached the council and spoke in favor of the ordinance. As the Associated Student Government’s vice president for community relations, he represented Northwestern students on the committee that drafted the original proposal, which was finalized last June.

“This will provide a mechanism that will allow us to have a check on fundamentally poor and unsafe living conditions,” Monacelli said.

He also said the added financial liability of the ordinance would likely trickle down to affect students and other renters, but said it was “a minimal burden, and we are willing to bear it.”

Residents opposed to the ordinance expressed concern that city staff would have the power to impose inspections and citations arbitrarily and without due process. The ordinance drew the most fire from council attendees Monday for the heavy fines it would place on landlords who don’t evict problem tenants. The first week that the tenant remains in the building would cost landlords $14,500, and an extra $17,000 would be charged for each additional week.

Landlords and residents said that the process of eviction typically lasts far longer than a week, and these heavy fines could end up costing landlords more than their property value.

Albert Cirillo, a retired NU English professor, argued that although he is not opposed to a licensing ordinance in general, he found the city’s proposal to be “unbelievable,” particularly the requirement that tenants who cause a problem be removed immediately.

“You do realize that tenants also have legal rights, and you want to put a tenant out on the spot without any prior notice?” he said. “And then $14,000 a week, $17,000 the second week? Are you insane?”

Cirillo went on to sardonically compare the Evanston council to “a totalitarian government.”

Howard Handler, government affairs director of the Illinois Association of Realtors, sent a letter to the NU administration last week to express concern that the ordinance could be used to discriminate against students living off campus. He alleged that inspectors unfairly target students. In the public letter, he said the city’s over-occupancy rule, which prevents more than three unrelated people from living together, could possibly be enforced as a violation under the new ordinance, and would thus be grounds for sudden eviction under the proposed licensing law.

Ald. Don Wilson (4th) rejected this claim and said that the ordinance was proposed to protect students.

“There are some landlords that won’t let the city in to do basic safety inspections,” he said. “Contrary to being an attack on students, it was really an effort to try to make sure that the properties were safe.”

Wilson moved to send the ordinance back to staff for revision. The motion passed 8-0, with Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) abstaining because she is an Evanston landlord.