Planning and Development Housing Subcommittee debates rental licensing


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Evanston’s Planning and Development Housing Subcommittee met Wednesday to discuss licensing in the city.

Avani Kalra, Assistant City Editor

Evanston’s Planning and Development Housing Subcommittee met Wednesday evening to discuss implementing a rental licensing program in the city. 

The program would make it necessary for landlords to obtain a license before they can rent out property. At the moment, a city ordinance requires annual registration for residential rental properties that are single family homes, rental condominiums, multifamily rental buildings and accessory dwelling units.

Joseph Roth, the governmental affairs director at Illinois Realtors, said the change is premature.

“The efforts are better focused on fixing the registration process rather than creating a blanket authoritarian approach to all of our housing providers,” Roth said. “Licensing is, after all, a threat to their livelihoods.” 

Daniel Schermerhorn, president of Schermerhorn and Co. Property Management, said Evanston’s registration system needs an overhaul.

Schermerhorn said the city has required registration for about a decade, and for more than half of those years, he has received a letter informing him he has failed to register his properties. He said this happens so often, he keeps a copy of his registration letter on hand. 

“I’m confused about what licensing is going to do for us that we don’t have with registration,” Schermerhorn said. “I’m also concerned about whether we have the wherewithal to go in a queue and maintain a licensing ordinance.”

Still, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) argued rental licensing is important. He said he doesn’t see evidence of aggressive measures happening around licensing, but was open to taking a look at any examples.

“Because the education component is mandatory, because you’re required to complete it to renew your license or keep it in good standing, we see better compliance,” Burns said. 

Burns said places like Iowa City experienced an increase in compliance after a licensing requirement.

Evanston Housing and Grants Manager Sarah Flax agreed and said licensing is valuable. Most cities she’s consulted in Illinois regarding licensing have not revoked many licenses. The threat encourages landlords to resolve issues before that can happen, she said. 

When licenses are revoked, Flax said landlords can no longer obtain rental income. 

While there are only a handful of landlords that commit repeat violations, licensing offers the city an avenue through which to hold landlords with repeat violations accountable, she said. Flax addressed the landlords in the room and said this change in policy is not directed at them, but at landlords who do not address violations or pay fines associated with them. No tenants made a public comment at the meeting. 

After a fine is issued, Flax said her inspector goes back out to see if the violation remains. If it does, the process starts again. She said a licensing program, or any sort of program beyond the fine, would offer a more tangible consequence. 

“We’re doing this for the rest of you. Because you guys are taking the time to take care of your properties. Because you guys are taking the time to take care of your properties,” Flax said. “Our current structure with violations and tickets and administrative hearings doesn’t solve the issue.” 

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Twitter: @avanidkalra

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