Staff introduces proposed changes to nuisance premise ordinance

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

Evanston officials introduced to City Council two ordinances addressing nuisance premises that aim to increase cooperation from landlords and restructure the enforcement process on Monday.

Proposals of the ordinances were first introduced in February of this year after the discovery of a woman’s body and reports of shots fired on properties near Evanston Township High School prompted city officials to examine the existing neighborhood integrity ordinances in November of 2015. A subcommittee was formed in mid-March to address issues with the proposal introduced in February after aldermen and members of the landlord community took issue with ambiguous language in the ordinance.

The final proposal consists of updates to both the landlord tenant ordinance and nuisance premise ordinance, including optional training for all Evanston landlords or property owners and a requirement that rental leases have a provision notifying potential tenants they are liable for any criminal activity taking place within the rental space.

The nuisance premise ordinance holds that city officials will not pursue any punitive action against the owner if they work with the city to address any issues.

“This is really about cooperation,” said deputy city attorney Michelle Masoncup. “There are two clear options here … only if we do not receive that cooperation that is needed, then will we pursue the nuisance premise ordinance.”

Under the proposed changes to the nuisance premise ordinance, Evanston police chief Richard Eddington can identify a property as a nuisance premise if one “aggravated offense” — such as a homicide or use of a deadly weapon — occurs on the property, an arrest is made and there is corroborating evidence. A conviction for a crime is not needed.

Masoncup told The Daily that the necessity for a conviction was removed in the updated proposed ordinance to allow city officials to enforce the ordinance in a more timely manner.

“Convictions for an offense such as homicide, those severe criminal offenses … can take upwards of over a year,” she said. “That inaction on the city’s part because a conviction has not been attained is unacceptable.”

A property could also be designated a nuisance premise if there are two non-aggravated offenses in a twelve-month period. Non-aggravated offenses include fire code violations, and less violent crimes such as prostitution or the manufacture or selling of controlled substances. These offenses would also need to be backed up by a citation or an arrest and proof of the activity.

According to the proposed update to the nuisance premise ordinance, if a property is designated a nuisance premise, the owner will be notified and meet with city officials. At the meeting, if the two parties craft a resolution agreement to address the problems on the property, the owner will not be subject to nuisance premise action.

However, if an agreement is not reached or the owner is uncooperative, the city may pursue further action against the owner, which may include a “nuisance abatement plan” to reduce the issues on the premises. Additionally, changes to the landlord tenant ordinance allows the landlord to begin eviction action against a specific tenant if they are found to be the cause of the nuisance issues.

“The tenants are going to be involved, the landlords are going to be involved, and the police department is going to play a major role here,” said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th). “It does provide for a bifurcated path for landlords and tenants to do the right thing.”

City Council will vote on the two ordinances on June 27.

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