It’s happening now.
Some apartment residents in Evanston who have faithfully paid their rent on time for years, and have never been accused of being disruptive tenants, are still being told to get out of their units once their leases are up.
“It’s all legal,” says Dominic Voz, associate director of fair housing for Open Communities, a tenants’ rights organization, as long as the proper amount of notice is included in the order to vacate.
But just because it’s legal, Voz says, does not mean that it’s fair to those being non-renewed.
“It’s happening quite frequently where large investors buy property for renovation,” Voz notes.
And when properties are renovated, the rent sometimes goes up. Way up.
“It’s just sheer profit motive,” he adds.
The latest Evanston case involves five nearly century-old buildings, totaling more than 160 units, that were sold last summer to a new owner.
Several residents have told Evanston Now that they have been sent 120-day non-renewal notices, with orders to move out when their lease terminates. Evanston’s landlord-tenant ordinance only requires 30 days notice for a standard non-renewal, so in this case, the property owner did include extra time.
While those notices say the residents can move back into a renovated unit, at least one tenant has told us she cannot afford the anticipated $400-$500/month increase in rent.
The new owner, North Park Ventues, and its apartment manager, Quadrel Realty, have not responded to Evanston Now’s request for comment.
However, Voz says it’s likely all the tenants in those buildings set for rehab will ultimately get the same move-out notice “on a rolling, staggered basis” as leases expire.
“It’s a huge problem,” says Voz, on the issue in general.
He says non-renewal can lead to something called “root shock,” which he describes as “the psychology of displacement, and getting disconnected from communities.”
Tenants may need to relocate during the school year through no fault of their own, or may have a hard time finding something else affordable in an expensive place like Evanston.
Open Communities has been able, over the years, to get some two-month extensions on notices to vacate, if the tenants have a disability covered by the federal Fair Housing Act.
It’s called “reasonable accommodations.”
However, Voz says that’s just a short-term, tenant-by-tenant solution which does not apply to everyone.
Long-term, Open Communities is calling for a “just eviction” ordinance.
Voz says such a measure has been proposed in Chicago, and he says there is also some sentiment on Evanston City Council to consider the concept.
Such a rule, Voz says, would still allow eviction for cause, such as non-payment of rent, criminal activity, or if the unit is being taken off the market or rented to a relative of the owner.
However, if those conditions are not met, a landlord non-renewing a tenant would have to pay some amount of relocation assistance, which, Voz says, would “offer folks more dignity” if they are dealing with displacement.
The Chicago Association of Realtors opposes the Chicago measure, saying on its website that “For property owners, just cause evictions eliminates the right to serve a nonrenewal notice at the end of the term.” The landlord, the Realtors say, would need to show “just cause” for such a non-renewal.
Another group involved in real estate, the Illinois Rental Property Association, says building sales and renovation are more common in high-density areas such as Chicago and Evanston, where there is little space to build new units.
Paul Arena, the organization’s director of legislative affairs, says “there needs to be a delicate balance” between the rights of tenants and the rights of property owners to improve facilities.
“If you squeeze too hard,” Arena says, “you may shut down activity.”
Shut down that activity, he notes, and older buildings may deteriorate. Plus, renovated structures have higher property taxes, which means more revenue for governments to provide services.
If a place like Evanston gets “more aggressive” with regulations, Arena says, developers may simply look to a nearby jurisdiction for their investments.
Arena says a better answer is for localities to “incentivize lower cost housing,” which has been a long-standing challenge in Evanston.
While all of this plays out, individual property owners/investors and apartment renters are still dealing with the life-cycle of buildings, and the related opportunities and problems.
As for Evanston, city spokesperson Patrick Deignan tells Evanston Now “the City is reviewing its Landlord-Tenant ordinance, as well as those of Cook County and Chicago, and exploring other ways to expand tenant protections.”
In the meantime, one of the renters impacted by the latest round of non-renewals, Nancy Temkin, tells Evanston Now she has been granted a two-month extension on her notice to vacate.
But she still has not found a new place to live.