Evanston aldermen Monday voted to schedule a review this spring of the city's ordinance that restricts apartment units to occupancy by no more than three unrelated people.
During a discussion Monday of ways to increase housing affordability in the city, three Northwestern University students urged repeal of the rule.
They said that high rental costs for apartments near campus force many students to skirt the rules, which then leave them vulnerable to eviction if they complain about poor conditions in their unit.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, argued for repeal of the restriction.
There's no reason for it as a protection against overcrowding, she argued, because the city housing code has separate rules that prescribe the amount of space required for each person in a dwelling unit.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward said he completely agreed with Rainey.
The reasons people cite for having the three-unrelated rule -- crowding and noise, Wilson said, are already covered by the housing code and the city's nuisance premises ordinance.
And, Wilson added, the existing law "provides a bad landlord with an opportunity to take advantage of somebody."
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she opposes relaxing the three-unrelated rule. She argued instead for encouraging more rooming houses in the area -- as long as those properties were owner-occupied.
She said there's been "strong success in her ward with licensed rooming houses."
They work, she said, because there's an owner in the house. And she said they could appeal to seniors, students and "people who want to share their house to help with the taxes."
A map of licensed rooming houses prepared by city staff indicates that only seven that aren't either hotels, NU dorms or other institutional properties.
Of the seven, three are located in the 1st Ward, east of the CTA tracks and south of Foster Street. The other four are located in the 5th Ward.
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said the conditions many students are living in now "are just not acceptable" and she urged a community discussion about rooming houses.
Rainey said, "If people are living in squalor, that's a property standards issue and the city needs to be doing inspections and citing" the violations.
Rainey also argued that rooming house residents have no protection under the city's landord-tenant ordinance. "You can be locked out if you don't pay the rent on time, and can be thrown out if the rooming house owner doesn't like you," she said.
Wilson said that if the three-unrelated rule were repealed, then people wouldn't be threatened with eviction for reporting property standards violations.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, moved to refer the issue to the Planning and Development Committee and the aldermen agreed to schedule that discussion for April 9, after NU students return from spring break. They also agreed to hold a community meeting to discuss the issue before then.