Evanston aldermen on the Planning and Development Committee are scheduled Monday to again discuss a new scheme for regulating landlords in the city.

The staff proposal, unveiled in July, would replace the current registration requirement for rental apartments with a licensing model with stiffer enforcement rules and higher fees.

But owners of two-unit buildings who live in one of the units —  required to register under the existing ordinance — would be exempt from the new licensing scheme.

Opposition from landlords who live in their two-unit buildings was a major factor leading to defeat of a previous effort to change the rental registration rules in 2008, along with concerns that the tougher penalties might be unenforceable.

Community and Economic Development Director Steve Griffin says the current registration scheme generates fees of about $70,000 — which is less than 12 percent of the cost of the city’s housing code compliance program.

The proposed new fee of $26 per unit is expected to generate about $320,000 — or more than half the cost of the program.

The ordinance would raise penalties for violations from a maximum of $375 per day to as much as $2,500 a day.

And it would give the city manager authority to revoke rental licenses after a hearing and bar the issuance of a new license after revocation for six months for certain violations.

It would also block the sale of occupied buildings with outstanding licensing violations

The ordinance in part appears designed to crack down on landlords who rent units to more than three unrelated people.

That practice is a frequent subject of complaints by homeowners living near the Northwestern University campus.

But it’s not clear whether the new rules would actually curtail the practice of students doubling-up in apartments, or just keep the extra residents from being listed on apartment leases.

Protest sign: An Evanston Now reader discovered this slogan stenciled on the CTA viaduct at Hamlin Street this morning. The reader says the work appears to have been done with dirt or some other substance that would wash off. Students who object to the ordinance limiting the number of unrelated people who can share an apartment have dubbed it the ‘brothel law,’ based on an apocryphal story about its origin.

Griffin says owner-occupied two-flats are rarely the source of complaints about overcrowding or serious code violations. He says they amount to about half of the total rental buildings in the city, and eliminating them from the licensing plan would free up staff time to more closely track problems in the investor-owned buildings that generate the most complaints.

The ordinance would also scale back the schedule for routine inspections of rental properties to once every four years. The city has claimed to operate on a once-every-two-year schedule for rental property inspections.

Related documents

Proposed new rental licensing ordinance

Existing rental registration ordinance

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Better regulation of absentee landlords is sorely needed.

    I hope the council moves forward on this. I live on a block that is mixed with owner-occupied single family homes and a few apartment buildings–some of which are owner-occupied.

    If you drove down our block you could point out the absentee landlord buildings easily–their yards are the only ones filled with litter, their yards are generally unkempt and the residents of those buildings are constantly violating noise ordinances, getting busted by the cops for various infractions, and give refuge to criminals.

    These rules won't impact responsible landlords, and should put the hammer down on those absentee owners exploiting our community.

    1. But it does impact responsible landlords…

      The higher per unit registration and licensing fees will cut into the increasingly high operating costs of owning a rental property in Evanston.   These regulations will further decrease the value of all rental properties in Evanston.  Who would consider purchasing a rental unit in Evanston when the surrounding communities have fewer restrictions, lower taxes and many listings.  Foreclosures will increase.  Even the responsible landlords who are registered with the city, complying with inspection requests and repairs are finding it very difficult.  Many of us live in Evanston and are working hard to maintain our properties and screen tenants and we are taking a serious loss.  Additionally, rental property owners do not receive a homeowners exemption so we are already paying more in taxes.  Finally, I would like to know if the staff had consulted with any local property owners, realtors or property managers before they drafted their report for Monday nights presentation.  The last time this issue came to council I asked that question during public comments and the answer was no. 

  2. Drop the more than 3 provision

    I am fine with all of this, other than the exclusion of more than 3 non-related residents. This component needs to be dropped, as it only creates hardship on students who need to share rent costs with others.

  3. There are already laws

    In response to the comment "Better regulation of absentee landlords…", there are already laws against everything you mention (litter, lawn/yard maintenance, noise), yet it clearly persists.  Making more laws – (especially the one about 3 unrelated people living together) will NOT solve the problems you mention.  How about getting property standards and the police to enforce the laws we currently have and stop making new laws that, once again, will not solve the problem,. 

    I support enforcing the laws we have already regarding garbage, yard maintenance, litter, etc., which are not being enforced and clearly need to be.  Enforcement is the difficult part.  Always has been.  Always will be.  They keep making laws, because that's easy to do and it appears to the public that they are doing something.  The City of Evanston needs to put  more effort into enforcing what we already have in place today and stop looking for the "magic wand" of adding more and more – and yet more unenforced laws. 

  4. a licensing model with stiffer enforcement rules and higher fees

    More taxes, more fees, less service…  How can honest hard working and conscientious rental property owners continue to provide a quality product with so much regulation and so many added fees to our already overburdened property ownership obligations?

    In the last two years, my costs have skyrocketed more that 20% (moving closer to negative cash-flow) yet when I ask my tenants for a 3% increase in rent, they flip out!  I live directly next door to my three rentals and purposely over maintain them and provide instant action on any tenant issue and any reasonable tenant requests… (this is my customer relationship management program).  As another contributor has mentioned, I already pay higher taxes because I don't live there, I also pay a higher mortgage rate – because I don't live there.

    Take a moment to consider that in 1996 the property taxes next door were approx. $3600 for this property… last year they were more than $12,000 – that is 333% increase in 14 years! (what was CPI during the same period?).

    I don't have any children and in the last 14 years, my tenants (on this property)  have only sent two children to school for one or two years each during this entire period… last years School Taxes portion (same property) were $8,151.29…  It seems fair to me that if I am subsidizing my follow citizens who send their children to Evanston's excellent public schools, that they too should chip in to subsidize all the expenses of administrating rentals in Evanston to my benefit.

    I completely agree with Anonymous… please enforce the (many) rules we already have – that should weed out the problems.  I am not the problem and adding more burdens to an already overtaxed rental property owner base in not the solution!

    Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas

  5. I’m for it!

    I only wish this applied to condos as well.  The condo next to me has 5 different last names listed on the mailbox and it's only a two bedroom.  Anyways, this new law isn't directed at students, but it's directed at non-students/immigrants who won't hang out in their homes (because of overcrowding) but rather hang out on the streets & their kids too.  This law has the ability to keep our streets safer!

  6. Why wait for tragedy to happen.

    I can see a change in having four to a three bedroom apt,if the landlord can afford the extra tenant living with the wear and tear such as extra water cost etc,they can apply it in the lease. Most ordinances are enforced when something bad happens. They need to get rid of the name of this ordinance and re write it and keep it safe for all Evanston residents. 

  7. Landlords pay more attention to properties since they compete!

    Competing for tenants makes most landlords more responsible!

    Unkept dirty lawns= no rentals. In our capitalist system it mostly does not happen.

    Although one can see plenty of "homeowners"-not Landlords having broken unused children bikes, broken lounge-chairs etc. lay around their yards as though abandoned; not to mention missing or damaged siding, unpainted or paint pealing windows, untuckpointed brick and chimneys.

    Landlords would be sited for these, but not homeowners. Complainers should note that if landlords cannot rent to students in a way they can make  money they will rent to Section 8 — where families are mostly huge, many come from dangerous areas of Chicago center city with all the underlying problems where the corners of the streets are monitored by "wise guys" to notify the sellers of illegal substances of impending police enforcement.

    Careful fellow Evanstonians; this ridiculous, last century's "brothel law" enforcement will destroy our property values, our safe streets, our more or less peaceful city neighborhoods and instead of policing  violations –not having 4-5 students living in a house — but safety factors, the  policing of streets and life threatening  issues will begin with huge expenditures to help our police  department deal with real crime.

    Are we kicking out our NU students and inviting in more crime,more police expenditures, more looking over our shoulders in fear and finally more taxes for paying for security?

    We should reconsider and help runaway offiials and neighbors re examine the real option

    1. Brothel Law, Families and Bedrooms

      Remember the City Code (6.18.3) says "that in no case shall the total occupancy of the dwelling unit exceed two (2) persons per bedroom" and that is defined under 'Family' so the rule would be even stricter for students, etc..

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