Evanston residents voice concerns about three-unrelated rule


Catherine Henderson/The Daily Northwestern

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) speaks at a meeting. Fiske said she wanted to hold the Friday meeting to gather information from residents and bring it back to the council.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

Community members and Northwestern students voiced hopes and concerns for the possibility of changing the three-unrelated rule, a current city ordinance stating that more than three unrelated people cannot live together in a single unit unless the landlord has a special-use permit approved by city council.

Over the past couple months, the three-unrelated rule, sometimes called the “brothel law” has surfaced in the discussion about affordable housing, as some argue it makes housing too expensive, particularly for students. About 60 residents of the 1st and 5th Ward met with Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) and Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) on Friday night at the Evanston Civic Center.

“What Robin and I are here tonight to do is listen to you so that we can take the information you give to us back to council and make an informed decision,” Fiske said.

Under the current city law, if the city finds a rental unit in violation of the three unrelated rule, the landlord can be given citations, inspections, adjudication, fines and can face not being able to rent anymore. Residents voiced concerns Friday night that the city enforced the ordinance disproportionately.

SESP junior Michael Deneroff said during the meeting that the quality of residences has nothing to do with whether or not people are related. Deneroff noted other laws maintain Evanston’s neighborhoods, from noise violations to property maintenance standards.

“Students are looking for affordability, and that’s really why students are violating this ordinance,” Deneroff said. “If we go to city hall and ask for an inspection, we could be scared of being evicted ourselves. Really all this ordinance is doing is creating a culture of fear in Evanston.”

However, 1st Ward resident Mark Metz said changing the ordinance would not necessarily improve rents and may hurt people looking for single-family homes.

Metz expressed concern over the creation of “student ghettos” where students do not maintain the quality of their homes and the neighborhood sees deteriorating home values. He said properties could become more valuable by operating as rooming houses for students but not for single-families.

“Does the city win when it deteriorates, when it loses the character of the neighborhood?”  Metz said at the meeting. “The students don’t win. The residents don’t win. The city doesn’t win. … You’re going to ruin our community even further.”

Deneroff argued that students don’t want to live in bad homes either, but lifting the three-unrelated rule could permit students to help with enforcement of other city ordinances.

There are only three city inspectors, but community members said at the meeting that inspectors were needed for more than just student homes. In order to maintain housing quality across Evanston, students need to be able to complain, Deneroff said.

“The cons massively outweigh the benefits of the three-unrelated rule because we already have property maintenance standards that can be enforced if students are able to join the enforcement regime and mechanism,” Deneroff said. “Students are just scared to go to city inspectors.”

Fiske told The Daily students have resources at NU for housing questions but noted many students are not aware of them. She said the city should help students by opening a dialogue with the university and students about making smart decisions when signing leases.

Fiske said the meeting was important for people to hear both sides of the argument. She said she started to realize the complications of changing the ordinance and she would take that knowledge back to council.

“This is what I like best about Evanston,” Fiske told The Daily. “These folks didn’t need to come out on a Friday night, but here they are.”

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