Alderman: Evanston City Council to tackle ‘brothel law’ by June

Edward Cox, Assistant City Editor

Students hoping to spread out rental costs next year by living with more than three people in a unit might not have to worry about the city’s so-called “brothel law” if all goes according to plan.

Changes to the law, which would relax limitations on the number of unrelated people living in the same unit, will come before the Evanston City Council, Ald. Don Wilson (4th) said Tuesday. Wilson is spearheading reform efforts and said he hopes to talk to newly elected Associate Student Government officials before he brings the amendment to the council for a vote.

“My goal is to talk to as many people and put something together that works for as many people,” Wilson said.

Under the proposed changes, the city would determine the appropriate number of people living in a unit based on the building’s structural layout rather than on whether occupants are blood-related or not, Wilson said. Landlords, for example, could rent out a four bedroom apartment to four unrelated people.

The changes would allow landlords to apply for house certification because many buildings have changed from their original layouts, he said. He said landlords should review their home layouts to keep up with safety standards.

“It is more focused on the building,” Wilson said. “It’s not just going to be a bright line about the number of people.”

Under current Evanston laws, no more than three unrelated people can live in the same rental unit. Though it has not been strictly enforced, the antiquated ordinance has harmed relationships between the city and Northwestern students. The issue flared up in 2011 when some city officials said Evanston planned to more strictly execute the ordinance, prompting about 500 angry students to protest at at a town hall meeting at Norris University Center.

“It brought up a lot of uncertainty and it has increased tensions and animosity some students may feel to the greater Evanston community,” said Steven Monacelli, former ASG vice president of community relations.

Many influential figures , including University President Morton Schapiro and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, have endorsed revisions to the “brothel law,” and it is only the outspoken voices of a few Evanston residents that have delayed changes, said Howard Handler, local government affairs director of the North Shore Barrington Association of Relators.

Handler, who has been involved in discussions to revise the ordinance, said landlords have been receptive to the changes, which he said would benefit real estate value. He echoed Schapiro’s sentiments that even the revised law did not go far enough in relaxing occupancy rules.

“I think you have a … small group of local (non-student residents) that live close to campus who hold on to this outdated ordinance for dear life,” Handler said.

ASG president Ani Ajith said talks with the city will begin after ASG has elected its new vice president of community relations. He stressed the importance of creating safer standards for students who rent houses.

“We hope to make out of this a safer leasing environment in Evanston,” Ajith said.