Some aldermen Monday questioned the effectiveness of a proposed new registration and inspection program for rental apartments.

They also asked staff for more information about whether license fees should be required for home-based businesses.

And they rejected a plan to charge $1.50 per bag for disposal of yard waste, a measure designed to raise $200,000 in new revenue, but one that several aldermen said would lead to more problems than it was worth.

But most other elements of a tax increase package designed to help resolved a budget crisis caused by under-funded public safety pensions sailed through introduction at the City Council meeting en route to expected final approval later this month.

The aldermen dismissed complaints from local hotel and restaurant owners that adding a 1 percent food and non-alcoholic beverage tax would cause them to lose banquet business to other communities. That tax hike would raise $849,000 — assuming the restaurateurs’ fears of lost business prove unfounded.

They also voted to:

  • Raise the annual vehicle sticker fee from $60 to $75 for cars and from $90 to $105 for light trucks to raise an extra $495,000.
  • Raise the annual fee for residential parking stickers from $10 to $15 to raise an extra $35,000.
  • Raise the tax on gasoline from two cents to three cents per gallon to raise $137,000.
  • Double the annual license fee for retail tobacco shops from $250 to $500 to raise an extra $12,000.
  • Raise various license fees for food service establishments and food delivery vehicles.
  • Establish a $2.50 per month fee for having a second garbage cart to raise $100,000.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he doesn’t believe staff assurances that the new process for revoking rental licenses envisioned by the ordinance would actually speed the resolution of such problems.

“You’ll still have to go through the courts,” Bernstein said.

He also voiced doubts about whether the courts would readily accept revocation decisions made by the head of the Community Development Department, who would be responsible for administrative decisions under the ordinance — since that person is also the boss of the inspectors who would be bringing the complaints.

Bernstein suggested that the city should make more aggressive efforts to foreclose on liens placed against properties of problem landlords who fail to pay fines assessed against them.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the ordinance was needed because it would give the city “a way to interrupt the income stream of bad landlords and remove bad tenants.”

She said the current process, in which cases are heard by lawyers hired by the city to serve as administrative adjudicators hasn’t worked, since cases are often dismissed or only token fines are imposed.

Alderman Anjena Hansen, 9th Ward, said she tended to agree with Bernstein that the enforcement strategy in the ordinance was flawed.

She also said the proposed $40 per unit fee would hit small landlords, and their tenants, hard; a point also raised by several landlords and tenants who addressed the Planning and Development Committee about the issue.

As proposed, the program is designed to raise $525,000 a year, which city officials say would cover its cost of operation.

None of the aldermen said they were opposed to the general concept of requiring landlords to register with the city.

They ended up voting to send the measure back to committee for further review.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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13 Comments

  1. Rental Inspections
    $40 per apartment is a hardship for small landlords? The city has just raised the cost of having a car in this city by $15 per car. For a family a car is a necessity. Most families require 2 cars. So that’s an additional $30 per family, plus whatever the property tax increase is going to be. Please alderman explain to me how $40 per apartment is a hardship. Do any alderman live near an apartment building? If you did you may understand the need to make sure that the apartments are of adequate quality. I understood this not as a revenue generator, but a program that paid for itself. If there is a problem with the language rewrite the proposal (aren’t many of the alderman lawyers and doesn’t the city have a staff of lawyers?), don’t write it off. This council is so unconcerned with the financial burden placed on the families who pay the full cost of living in this community, receiving no assistance for any of our expenses. If I read between the lines I see a council worried about the people receiving housing vouchers. How will the landlord still offer those apartments at the amount of the voucher, still afford the property tax hike the council is going to put on them. Let’s give them a break on the $40 inspection, because not only would they have to pay the $40, they might (shockingly) have to maintain a higher level of maintenance and a higher quality of tenant. Which by the way would also represent the council doing something to improve the quality of life for it’s residents who shoulder the real burden of the council’s budget and clearly they’re not going to do that.

  2. Taxes here…where’s the representation
    If its agreed that we are in a recession and many people are subject to losing their homes then what in the world is this city doing raising taxes on whatever comes to their collective greed consciousness. When is their next election?

    1. Million dollar question
      That’s the million dollar question, scotirish. I don’t know for sure but I have a sneaking suspicion that the loudest voices against making any cuts are the special interests that can afford higher taxes. If so, they are the worst kind of hypocrites.

  3. Rental Inspections
    Anonymous:

    A $40 per unit fee is a big hardship on not only property owners, but tenants as well, as the $40 is likely to be passed on to renters.

    Please understand that licensing is not inspections; inspections will continue with or without licensing. Properties will continue to be inspected to ensure good standards of living. And combatting bad landlords is supported.

    But $40 per unit is a revenue generator — that is being affirmed by City memos and the Aldermen themselves. $40 per unit is significantly more than the vast majority of other City’s throughout the country charge for licensing (Chicago charges $10 for the entire building regardless of the number of units).

    Aldermen Jean-Baptiste, Bernstein, and Hansen understood this and were rightfully concerned with the high fees. Licensing is not going away… all of the groups opposed to the high fee are being supportive of licensing or registration… we just need to find a reasonable and legal fee to charge.

    Howard Handler
    North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS

    1. Barrington realtors prefer to increase Evanston taxes? Hmmm
      It would appear that outside realtors are doing quite a bit of lobbying to protect their interests in this town: the question is, what’s in the best interest of the citizens of Evanston? At this time, all taxpayers are footing the bill for the rental inspection process, although the only users of this program are tenants and landlords. Inspectors are stretched far beyond their capacity – we have a great deal of difficulty dealing with problem buildings. This fee is not a revenue generator: it is to put the cost of the inspection program on its users: it’s only fair that if a cost is incurred by a small subset of taxpayers, they should take responsibility for it.

      Mr. Handler, I wish you would turn your Association’s energies to addressing the slumlord problem in Evanston rather than finding still more ways to increase property taxes – which is the ultimate effect of your statements.

  4. Rental Inspections
    Please everyone who lives near an apartment building, please go to

    http://www.cityofevanston.org/AboutYou/?name=whoami&Cmd=whoami&User=1&house_number=&street_id=&Submit=Submit

    This is the About My Place feature at the city website. Enter the address of the apartment building and get the PIN number for the property.

    Then go the Cook County Treasurer’s Office, at the below link.
    http://www.cookcountytreasurer.com/payment.aspx?ntopicid=3

    This is the payment status option at the Treasurer’s website. Enter the PIN and you will find out who owns the apartment building, how much they pay in taxes and sometimes whether or not they live in Evanston.

    This mapping feature at the below link can also help:

    http://www.cityofevanston.org/imf510/imf.jsp?site=publicbrowser

    Knowledge can be a powerful thing.

  5. Michelle:1. We are not
    Michelle:

    1. We are not “outside” REALTORS — I know the “Barrington” part of our name is confusing, but it is because the “North Shore REALTORS” merged with the “Barrington REALTORS” several years ago. Prior to that merger, many years ago the “Evanston REALTORS” merged with the “North Shore REALTORS.” We have about 500 member REALTORS that live in Evanston and a number of offices.

    2. Rental licensing is NOT inspections. They are two different things, so the fee is not to fund inspections. $40 per unit is a revenue generator. This is confirmed in City memos and by some of the Aldermen themselves. Again, do not be confused… licensing is NOT inspections.

    Howard Handler

    1. Realtors and Smoke And Mirrors
      Respectfully, Mr. Handler – your group doesn’t seem to have the interests of those who pay property taxes in mind; both times you’ve offered opinions on the budget process have been to reduce fees which affect realtors more than taxpayers. When you reduce fees as a source of revenue, it means property taxes go up.

      It was stated by the City Manager that this is a fee to generate income to cover the cost of inspections. Let’s look at the budget itself. On p. 13 “The new Landlord Licensing Program as described on page 16 will require hiring an inspector and a clerk. Fortunately, the revenues collected will pay for these positions.” On p. 16 of the proposed budget “Anticipated gross program revenue would be $525,000.” On p. 144 of the budget “2115 HOUSING CODE COMPLIANCE 2007-08 APPROPRIATION $647,100 2008-2009 PROPOSED $693,900.” In looking at these facts, it would appear that this license fee covers CONSIDERABLY LESS than the costs incurred in housing code compliance, thus your statement that this is a revenue generator is FALSE.

      If I recall correctly, the legal department stated that to enact a fee such as this one, it must cover a cost not incurred by other residents – my figures here bear this out. Can you direct me to exactly which budget memos you are talking about that show something different?

      1. Landlords pay property taxes too
        Hi Michele,
        I think it’s worth pointing out that landlords and commercial property owners pay property taxes too. Property taxes are not just a burden on single-family homeowners.
        And the benefits of eliminating problem buildings flow to all residents of the community. So, one could argue that, since this amounts to a police power activity by the city, all residents should share in the cost.
        If you grant that most landlords are “good” and don’t create problem buildings, then it arguably is unfair to burden them with the cost of policing problem buildings when all residents benefit from having such buildings eliminated.
        Go too far down the path of charging the cost of something to the people who “are to blame” for it, and eventually you end up making those who have children bear the entire cost of public education. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to go there, right?
        That’s not to say that it is totally unreasonable to ask landlords to pay the cost of a rental property inspection program. I’m just suggesting that it’s not a slam-dunk that that is the most appropriate way to address the issue.
        — Bill

        1. Fees
          I’m not in any way implying that the fee should cover landlords because there are “bad” ones. I’m saying that the inspection program serves landlords and tenants exclusively – and thus is more appropriate to be paid with a fee; and as I mentioned before, the fee is not projected to cover the entire cost.

          For example, in a similar way, parents are required to pay registration and materials fees to D65 in addition to taxes (IIRC it was well over $100.) These fees are supposed to cover specific supplies and administrative costs. They could pass that cost on to the taxpayer and roll it in to property taxes – but since not everyone has a child in D65, this fee allows some of the costs to be placed on the user. Everybody benefits when children go to school, but there is a definite benefit to making users responsible for part of the cost.

      2. Michelle:1. Both the
        Michelle:

        1. Both the Transfer Tax and Rental Licensing affect property owners and tenants signficantly more than REALTORS.

        2. From City Memo: “The proposed fee is $40/year per rental unit. Anticipated gross program revenue would be $525,000*. Two additional staff members are suggested, another inspector and a clerk. Net program revenue is projected at $414,000*.”

        * NOTE: Subsequent City memorandum corrects these figures and places program revenue at $560,000 and net revenue at $449,000.

        Moreover, several Aldermen also said this is a revenue generator and therefore were reluctant to support such a high fee.

        3. Just because some individuals say it is to cover inspections, does not make it legal. By state statute, fees must be commensurate with the costs of the services. Licensing is not inspections; inspections is not licensing. Just because someone wants to say they are the same thing does not make it so. You are looking at figures of two different programs. That would be like looking at the costs of police services and comparing it to the fees for building permits.

        Howard Handler

        1. Fee revenue should cover specific costs
          So essentially this argument boils down to he said, she said…the City Manager says it’s to cover specific costs and some Aldermen say it’s to generate revenue. Your comparison is strained, however, considering there is small correlation between building permits and police services, but yet a direct relationship between this fee and the inspection process: it’s levied against the end users of the process. I do agree that the fees in question should be earmarked to cover the costs of housing code compliance.

          I’m curious, then, regarding your first point: what do realtors stand to gain from reducing fees and increasing property taxes? Why have you, in your professional capacity, entered this debate at all?

          1. Further clarifying…
            Michele:

            My argument is not “he said, she said” — I am very specifically citing City memos that spell out that it is a revenue generator.

            Any yes, while licensing and inspections are more closely related than police services and building permits, licensing and inspections are not related enough to constitute a legal fee. So, just because the City Manager might say the costs are to cover inspections, doesn’t make it legal. State statute is clear that fees must be directly related to the costs of the service and not be used a revenue generator.

            We do not have to choose between a fee or higher property taxes. We can have a small, non-revenue generating fee for licensing to cover the costs of the program (which we are not opposing). As a professional Association, we are engaged to help maintain a healthy real estate climate for Evanston (and other communities we serve). Please understand, very few of our members will be actually paying this fee, but we believe it to have a negative affect on real estate.

            Michele, by the way, our findings our backed up by a Univesity of Wisconsin study which also opined that a licensing fee would contribute to the lack of affordable housing.

            Howard Handler

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