The Evanston ordinance barring more than three unrelated individuals from sharing an apartment effectively puts nearly 600 rental apartments in Evanston off limits to college students.

Meanwhile, the total number of occupied rental units in the city has declined by nearly 25 percent during the past decade.

U.S. Census data presented in a report from the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs issued Friday indicates that the total number of occupied rental housing units in Evanston declined from 14,040 to 10,608 from 2000 through 2008, while the number of owner-occupied units rose by a smaller ammount.

The census data shows that during the same period the number of four bedroom rental units increased from 349 to 511, while the number of rentals with 5 or more bedrooms declined from 106 to 76.

The city code provision makes no allowance for the size of the dwelling occupied by unrelated individuals. And it imposes no similar limits on the number of family members who can live in a single dwelling unit.

Assuming students need as many roommates as there are bedrooms in an apartment to be able to compete effectively to rent the unit, the occupancy rule shuts them out of legally renting nearly six percent of the rental housing units in town.

City officials last fall assured homeowners living near the Northwestern University campus that they were cracking down on violations of the occupancy rule.

But this month, after protests on campus about the supposed crackdown, the officials claimed they are simply continuing ongoing efforts to enforce the ordinance and that the city would not generally move to evict students from apartments that violated the rule.

Related document

Open to All? (Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs) (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. crush it

    We should all write to our aldermen & alderwomen to demand a repeal of this ordinance. This is one more burden on students as well as property owners who will not be able to rent their properties.

    this really is a shameful law

  2. Why the limit of 3?

    The current law of limiting occupancy to 3 unrelated individuals doesn’t seem to have any basis.  Why the limit of 3?  If you have a 4 bedroom house or apartment, why shouldn’t 4 separate individuals be allowed to live there?  The real issue is why the relationships should it matter.  For example, if 2 of the 4 renters are sisters, suddenly a unit is now legal with 4 persons, but if they were 4 un-related individuals, this would not be legal.  What possible difference does this make to the city or the neighborhood?  What if you have a couple of brothers, a cousin and 2 others living together in a 2 bedroom apartment?  Apparently, this would be fine according to the current regulations, even though it seems like it could be rather crowded. I assume that there are square foot limits of decent living space per occupant, and maybe that should be the only determining factor for occupancy; not relationships. 

    This current law doesn’t make any sense and needs to be abolished. It is a riduclous waste of valuable City resources and time.

  3. Occupancy limits should be enforced

     Almost all apartments have 1-3 bedrooms.  It is a red herring to claim that apartments with 4 bedrooms are off limits because of the law.  What is off limits is putting more than 3 people in an apartment with 3 or fewer bedrooms.  This happens all the time.  What is also off limits is putting 7-10 people in a house, regardless of the number of bedrooms.  This also happens all the time.  The people who benefit from the lack of enforcement of the occupancy limits are landlords who can charge exhorbitant rates because students are willing to cram into small apartments so that they can live near campus.  The more students who cram in, the more landlords can charge.  What is needed is help for the students from the university — rental information and transportation — so that students can live further from campus and break the stranglehold that landlords have on rents near campus.  The university should not say that they "won’t stand for it," if the law is enforced.  Rather, they should help to reduce rents all over by helping students to live further away.

    Those who think the law is irrational do not live near an overcrowded dwelling.   The attendant ills of overcrowding include having one’s garbage and recycling cans filled with someone else’s waste, the loss of parking space, in addition to the notorious noise, drunkenness and littering problems.  If you live next to an overcrowded dwelling, you cannot ask the neighbors to address problems because many do not officially live there, and the ones who do will claim that the behavior of roommates is not their fault.  

    The claim that the city should just enforce laws against noise, littering and drunkenness neglects the fact that garbage collection and parking problems are not addressed by such enforcement.  Further, the city barely manages to enforce the brothel law itself, after neighbors live with months or years of abuse.  To expect the city to enforce many other laws linked to overcrowding is to wait for the proverbial cold day in hell.  

    The law against overcrowding should be enforced.  Students should be assisted in their search for affordable housing.  Landlords near campus should not be permitted to keep and raise exhorbitant rents.  The university should work to expand the rental market through information and transportation help.  Those who think that the law is ‘shameful’ should move in next to an overcrowded dwelling to learn what the law seeks to prevent.

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