Evanston’s ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated people who can live in a housing unit was criticized and defended at a community meeting Thursday night.

City housing inspector Jeff Murphy.

Evanston’s ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated people who can live in a housing unit was criticized and defended at a community meeting Thursday night.

City housing inspector Jeff Murphy.

At a joint 5th and 7th ward meeting at Northwestern’s Technological Institute, Jeff Murphy, head of the city’s property standards unit, said the ordinance is needed to deal with concerns about overcrowding.

“If you have four students living in a house, compared to a family of four,” Murphy said, you’re likely to have four cars, which creates a lot of congestion. And with people moving in and out frequently, it creates a lot more wear and tear on the house compared to what you’d normally see with a family.”

A landlord at the meeting, Dave Ahn, said he has a building with four-bedroom apartments, and that the restriction doesn’t make sense for apartment units that large or larger.

Landlords Dave Ahn and Joey Resnick.

But Murphy said he’s seen situations where landlords have combined units to pack as many bedrooms into a building as possible, and are essentially running them as rooming houses.

Under city ordinances, Murphy said,  a rooming house would have to be equipped with a sprinkler system. But landlords say sprinklers are prohibitively expensive to install in older buildings.

About 40 people turned out for the meeting, including a large number of older residents living in the area near campus. They generally applauded efforts to limit the number of students in off-campus housing.

“This is our neighborhood,” one woman said. “We don’t want more than three people. We’re trying to get our neighborhood back, and you come in to make a lot of money,” she told the landlords.

Aldermen Jane Grover, 7th Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, hosted the meeting.

Bennett Johnson, a long-time community activist, said the restriction on the number of unrelated people living in a dwelling unit has been on the city’s books since the 1940s and was originally adopted in an attempt to cut back on overcrowded rooming houses on on the city’s predominantly black west side.

He described the rules as an appropriate effort to try to control density. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

3 Comments

  1. No zoning surprises in Evanston

    Mr Ahn’s decision to build 4 bedroom apartments knowing that the city will only allow three unrelated persons to live within a single unit suggests either that he has not read the city’s zoning codes or he does not think the rules should apply to him.   A smarter business decision would be to comply with zoning rules rather than plan on violating them or asking for an exception. 

  2. Outdated law, repeal it

    bad law. Although Northwestern students are generally pretty spoiled and do not have to fund their own education and housing, this is rather prohibitive to those who do have to pay their own rent. Simple economics tells you that the more contributing to one bill the cheaper it is individually. therefore, allowing more than three college roomates in one unit saves costs. This could ultimately result in less time they need to spend working a job to pay bills and can focus more on their studies – which is what college is for.

    If the law does date back to the 1940s in an effort to prevent rooming houses, then get rid of it. Rooming houses do not exist anymore. They are now cooperatives – which is something that a city that prides itself on progressivism should endorse.

  3. Build, or bought?

    For the one posting by Anonymous :  Most landlords that own the 3- or 4bedroom units did not buld them! They bought them that way because the buildings had been operated in that manner for years! Go ahead and check how many new construction buildings are up these days and check the number of bedrooms!!! Before you throw mud at any of the landlords, make sure you attend the meetings and listen to what everyone has to say (if of course they are given a fair chance to speak in those whining-sessions).

    Also, this article says they do not want the 3 or 4 students living in same unit, because (per Mr. Murhpy) "you’re likely to have four cars, which creates a lot of congestion. And with people moving in and out frequently, it creates a lot more wear and tear on the house compared to what you’d normally see with a family"

    So, if a specific building is equipped with ample parking for its residents, then it should not be  a problem, right? Cause no one is parking on the street! so there!! About the wear and tear on the building, that should be landlord’s problem who pays to maintain the building!

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.