Evanston’s ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated persons who may occupy a dwelling unit doesn’t make sense.

The ordinance gives no consideration to the size of the unit. It makes a large structure that could easily house four or more people in comfort and safety just as illegal as a tiny one too small for two.

Evanston’s ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated persons who may occupy a dwelling unit doesn’t make sense.

The ordinance gives no consideration to the size of the unit. It makes a large structure that could easily house four or more people in comfort and safety just as illegal as a tiny one too small for two.

And it unfairly discriminates against non-family households. Ten people might live in a space that would be illegal for four as long as those ten people are related by blood or marriage.

The ordinance appears to have been intended to create a means by which fraternities, sororities and rooming houses could be barred from the community by requiring them to obtain a special use permit the city could choose to deny.

But by setting the number that triggers the regulation so low, and by giving no consideration to the nature of the legal relationship between the property’s owner and its residents or the size or configuration of the dwelling, the ordinance turns what recent reports suggest are a huge number of Northwestern students and perhaps hundreds of landlords into lawbreakers.

We aren’t sure how many off-campus apartments could safely house four or five students under a reasonable interpretation of uniformly applied health and safety codes.

But we are convinced that the answer is not zero — the number the city’s zoning rule now dictates.

Residents who chose to buy homes in a neighborhood filled with rental apartments adjacent to a university campus should expect the city to enforce ordinances against excessive noise and unruly behavior.

But it’s irrational to assume that an apartment occupied by three students will be quiet, while one occupied by four will instantly be transformed into Animal House.

And the residents shouldn’t be able to use the cudgel of an unfair occupany rule to intimidate their student neighbors by threatening to report them for violating it.

The city’s scattershot enforcement of the ordinance only makes the situation worse.

A complaint-driven system to enforce a widely violated, hard-to-justify law that many in the community have a strong economic incentive to evade is a sure recipe for capricious enforcement and widespread disrespect for the law.

It reminds us of another idea once popular in Evanston — Prohibition.

Surely we should have learned our lesson from that and should now be able to craft a more nuanced, sensible regulatory scheme. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. Antiquated and unjust

    Thank you for speaking up on this issue Bill. The law is severely antiquated and needs to go. If enforced, it is cost prohibitive to students. If the problem is landlords, fine them and make them correct the structure’s violations

    Please repeal this law

  2. What are the origins of the ordinance?

    Bill – you say that "the ordinance appears to have been intended to create a means by which fraternities, sororities and rooming houses could be barred from the community by requiring them to obtain a special use permit…"

    I had heard previously that it was introduced to prevent overcrowding in other parts of Evanston. Does anyone have more details on when it came on books, and for what reason?

    People seem to be advocating for a repeal of the ordinance, but if it had an original purpose that still exists in Evanston then shouldn’t we be talking about what would be more appropriate conditions to replace it?

    1. Is the Code to be taken seriously ?

      I wrote the mayor about how having laws in the city code [the "brothel’ but also others], that the city does not enforce means that citizens don’t really know what or when the laws will be enforced or on whom [discrimination].  They then tend to ignore the code.  And that it should be cleaned-up to what the ‘real’ law is.

      The mayor responded:"We are enforcing the law. We have enforced the law. We will enforce the law. We have no plans to change our enforcement of the law and never had any plans to change enforcement."

      ===============

      Sounds like the story changed again.  Last  I heard they were NOT going to enforce the brothel  law.

  3. Antiquated & unjust

    If I have my numbers right, it costs between $40-$50K to go to NU … if the students and their families can afford the tuition, then they can afford housing for their precious little genius ones. C’mon, NU students needy? You’ve got to be kidding … even those on scholarship probably get a housing stipend.

    1. Sadly, a large source of the

      Sadly, a large source of the animosity that exists between NU and Evanston is due to a lack of awareness.  Yes, Northwestern is very expensive; annual costs to attend are ~$55,000. Did you know that the average financial aid package for NU undergrads (scholarships, grants, loans) exceeds $30,000?   A very large number of students (or if you prefer, "precious little genius ones") would be completely unable to attend Northwestern without it.  Many come from families who have scrimped and saved for years so that their child could attend NU. Sure, there are some students from wealthy backgrounds, as there are at all colleges and universities.  But to suggest that one has "got to be kidding" that there are needy students at NU, well, to put it kindly that is an unknowing statement to make.

      And  if you would like to pass on information about the "housing stipend" that scholarship students receive, I know of, oh, about 8,000 people who would like to know the details.

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