Several Evanston landlords complained at a City Council committee meeting Monday that their buildings had been unfairly included in a list city officials distributed last week of properties with allegedly unresolved overcrowding or building code violation complaints.

Several Evanston landlords complained at a City Council committee meeting Monday that their buildings had been unfairly included in a list city officials distributed last week of properties with allegedly unresolved overcrowding or building code violation complaints.

And even landlords and property managers who weren’t on the list objected to a proposed new licensing law for rental properties that they said would increase costs.

They also complained that the city’s rule limiting rentals to no more than three-unrelated individuals poses an unfair economic burden for student renters and their landlords.

Landlords also complained to the Planning and Development Committee that the list included some properties based unsubstantiated, anonymous complaints.

Nefrette Halim, who had several properties on the list, said the rental market is very difficult and the city needs to reach out to landlords to discuss the issue.

She argued that the ordinance would severely devalue Evanston’s housing stock and encourage the demolition of older properties with architectural character to be replaced by new ones.

Mike Tanner said he lives in one apartment in the three unit building he owns at 2237 Ridge Ave. He said it took a year after he bought the building to get the city to give him a report on it, and now he finds himself on the list of buildings with supposed violations.

“The city needs to behave more professionally,” Tanner said.

Top: Landlords crowd around aldermen after the Planning and Development Committee meeting to complain about what they see as unfair treatment by the city. Above: Landlord Brian Becharas.

Brian Becharas, who did not have a building on the city list, said costs for building owners have skyrocketed, and the proposed $26 per unit licensing fee would be yet another burden.

Becharas said his property taxes have quadrupled since the mid-1990s when he bought the building he now owns.

City officials say the licensing fee would let the city recover just over half of the $600,000 annual cost of the property inspection program — a program that is now primarily funded by federal grant money. The city’s current rental registration program, which would be replaced by the licensing ordinance, brings in about $70,000.

The list of properties was initially provided to Northwestern University officials during a meeting of the NU/City Housing Committee late last month that was attended by three aldermen whose wards include or adjoin the campus — Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said the list was the result of a year-long process designed to provide students with information about the condition of apartments they might end up renting.

Officials then provided the list to the Daily Northwestern as part of a city response to the student paper’s coverage of issues surrounding the housing occupancy limits. Officials also provided the list to Evanston Now upon request.

But aldermen who weren’t on the housing committee, including Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, complained that they’d been kept in the dark about the list. They said aldermen should be sent copies of all city news releases.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the city needed to be clear about the reason why a particular property was on the list.

She said information about violations is public information that’s important for tenants, “but it should be fairly described.”

Rainey, noting that the list focused on properties in the area immediately surrounding the campus, said people who aren’t NU students should be treated the same way students are and have the benefit of the same sort of information.

The rental licensing ordinance was only a discussion item for the committee Monday night. Wilson said he wants to move forward with the ordinance, but it was not immediately clear when the issue would next be on the committee’s agenda.

Related stories

City wants to revamp apartment rules

Editorial: Occupancy law dance resumes

City investigates dozens of buildings for overcrowding

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. What are the real motives of a licensing Ordinance?

    I think the real motive behind this is the city wants to increase revenue for the lost of federal funds so it is creating this fee on landlords. 

    There is an interesting issue here the "Property Standards" inspectors are not Building Code inspectors, I would suspect they are not qualified to inspect for building code violations.

    My estimate I would suspect many of the so called violations are not correct.  That is the Property standard inspectors are making errors and claiming violations when none exist.

    The city sends owners a notice with vague descriptions of violations, clearly the inspectors are not required to document the violations in any professional manner.

    Also those who get these noticed have no appeal process  other then to go to court or call the city and talk to a manager to get a correction.

    I suspect many citizens have done unnecessary work due to Property Standards inspections.

    Landlords might not want to deal with the city and just go along with the nonsense, because it is more costly to fight it.

    Property Standards and Building code inspectors are needed but not for the stake to create a large program to justified their jobs.  I would suspect if they inspected 100 properties only a few would have any real issues and even less, major issues.

    The landlords as a group should file a FOI  for the set of all the reports, and see what they really say.  I would suspect many of the items are minor, such as weeds, pealing paint, trash or other non public safety items.   Some might say these are real problems yes they are, but understand the reports do not document any thing, thus a property could be written up for a few piece of trash or a junk yard.  I would recommend a reinspection by an independent group to see if the inspection are meaningful.

    Two years ago, I asked someone in the building department with the decreasing  building activity what would they do, I was told since the economy was bad people  would not maintain their properties and they would busy, in driving around Evanston I do not notice any major decline in all the properties, Thus I would believe the ordinance is nothing more than a revenue source.

    1. Ponzi on target

      @Ponzi — you are right on target with your comments.  This "list" was often nothing more than telephone complaints received over a course of several years — no real investigations were undertaken and no notices were sent to property owners.  This was government malfeasance at its worst.

      As for submitting a Freedom of Information Act request — it is important to note that the Department of Commmunity and Economic Development routinely denies requests for public records.  For eight months now the Dept. of Community and Economic Development with the backing of the City's Legal Department have fighting the release of the City's (related) occupancy standards (e.g. how many related people can live in a two bedroom apartment).  When this list broke a property owner who went into the Department of Community and Economic Development's office was told she could not take notes regarding her own property.

      The City of Evanston needs to be reigning in the Department, not expanding their power.

      Howard Handler
      Government Affairs Director
      North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS

  2. Aldermen checked the list twice, and landlords are just naughty

    If you own investment property in Evanston – beware. They are putting landlords on a LIST not many knew about that could eventually fine them $2,500 per day.

    Yes, aldermen want to license landlords, stiffen the penalties and create a new fee per unit. And to start their lucrative crackdown, they've created THE LIST of landlords who allegedly are guilty of overcrowding their units. Sounds like a set up to me.

    Evanston, Cook County and the State of Illinois are roiling in the worst Recession EVER and our City Council continues to brow beat business and property owners. Meanwhile, the Council will soon decide to raise our property taxes another 8 percent this year (They raised it 3 percent last year).

    Evanston officials with the knowledge and blessing of several aldermen have created THE LIST. I'd like to know if aldermen Fiske, Grover and Holmes provided this unsubstantiated LIST of alleged landlord code violations to Northwestern?

    Why didn't aldermen Rainey and Wilson know about THE LIST? This so-called brothel law is an issue that has been surfacing and sinking for years. THE LIST simply contained addresses, the building type and the owner's name. No other pertinent info such as details of the violations or if they have been corrected. ANYONE could call the city and complain and the landlord would make THE LIST.

    Is this the way to treat property owners, many of whom live in Evanston? Create THE LIST and not notify landlords and then release it to Northwestern officials who released it to their school newspaper who published THE LIST, creating a bad reputation for that property owner. 

    The city took THE LIST off their website. Hmmm, wonder why?

    Do you smell that? Sniff, sniff. It smells like a lawsuit.

    THE LIST only augments the poor reputation Evanston has with business and property owners. It also shows the glaringly poor leadership we have on the City Council. 

    By the way, the annual cost of Evanston's property inspection program is $600,000, funded primarily by federal grant money.

    What happens when that grant money is gone, and it will be gone sooner than later. 

    I know. Put more people on THE LIST.


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