The nuisance property ordinance changes up for City Council review tonight appear to be a significant step forward for Evanston -- but the rental registration rules need further improvement.
First, city staff has provided no data to indicate how frequently the ownership or management of rental properties in Evanston changes. That makes it impossible to tell whether it's really necessary for landlords and city staff to go through the annual drill required by the ordinance of filling out a registration form and sending in a check
Given the cost of city worker time, it's hard to believe that -- especially for smaller buildings -- the city is generating much net revenue from the process -- and, at the margin, it marginally increases the rents apartment tenants have to pay.
With officials worried about housing affordability -- minimizing unnecessary regulatory costs is one step completely within the city's power that would advance that goal.
Carl Caneva, the assistant health and human services director in charge of the inspections, says his department has recently started coordinating with the city clerk's office to catch sales of rental properties whenever the seller arrives at the clerk's office to purchase the required property transfer tax stamps.
That improvement should make it possible to switch to a system that foregoes the annual paperwork drill -- while still requiring owners to advise the city of on-site management changes when they occur.
Second, it appears there are substantial deficiencies in the way the city maintains its rental database. Caneva says the latest numbers his staff has been able to generate from the database indicate there are 19,909 rental units in Evanston.
This number is hard to square with Census Bureau data that indicates Evanston has around 33,000 housing units, of which about 15,000 are rentals.
If the rental database number is correct, that means 60 percent of city households are renters -- instead of the 45 percent indicated by the census. That would mean a major shift in our thinking about the composition of the Evanston community.
But if the database number is wrong, it means the city really has no idea how many scofflaws are failing to register their rentals.
For the small minority of landlords who contribute to the perpetuation of nuisance situations on their properties, the new higher registration fees proposed as part of the revisions may be part of an effective goad to better performance.
But there's nothing to be gained by imposing any more hassles on good landlords or their tenants than absolutely necessary.
City plans nuisance property crackdown (11/16/15)