City staff is asking Evanston’s Plan Commission to finally make a recommendation tonight on proposed changes to housing occupancy limits, 10 months after the City Council asked the commission to address the issue.

The staff is recommending that the city eliminate occupancy restrictions based on family status and instead enforce the non-discriminatory limits already contained in the city’s housing code.

The staff proposal also envisions a range of steps to increase enforcement efforts to prevent over-occupancy and to address nuisance behaviors.

Those changes include hiring an additional housing inspector, requiring that floor plans with room size measurements be submitted at the time properties change hands so occupancy limits can be determined and requiring posting of a maximum occupancy notice at the entry of all rental units.

The proposal anticipates taking different approaches to over-occupancy issues on rental and owner-occupied properties.

Rental properties would be inspected on a regular schedule and based on complaints.

The owner of a rental property would immediately be issued a ticket if an inspection showed over-occupancy and would be required to agree that the property would no longer be over-occupied following the term of the current lease.

A rental property that accumulated more than three such violations would be declared a nuisance and the owner would be required to develop an abatement plan with the city’s law department.

Owner-occupied properties would be inspected only based on complaints.

If over-occupancy was identified, the owner would be subject to an administrative review process.

And, if a Fire Department inspection determined there were no risks to the safety of the structure, the over-occupancy would be permitted to continue.

On the nuisance behaviors front — an issue of particular concern to homeowners near Northwestern University — the staff proposal calls for strengthening enforcement of rules regarding noise, garbage and parking and the bans on urinating in public and public drunkenness.

The proposal says the city is also considering amending its landlord-tenant ordinance to require that the names of all tenants be on leases and that tenants sign a lease addendum summarizing behavioral expectations.

In a memo to the commission, Community Development Director Johanna Nyden says staff believes the changes “will begin to address systemic inequities that have disparate impact on lower income households.”

She adds that the current rules encourages not having all tenants listed on leases which denies them the protection of city regulations.

The memo says that the City Council is expected to act on the rental regulation changes discussed in the proposal later this summer and hopes to consider the zoning code text amendments at the same time.

The Plan Commission’s Zoning Committee has discussed the issue at three meetings and it’s also been discussed at two previous meetings of the full Plan Commission.

Related stories

>Repeal of housing occupancy limit advances, a bit (6/10/21)

Zoning panel returns ‘family’ issue to Plan Commission (4/29/21)

Panel again fails to act on three-unrelated rule (4/15/21)

Opinion: Three-unrelated rule is a barrier to housing affordability (4/12/21)

What readers think about affordable housing ideas (1/19/21)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.