A committee appointed by the mayor after Evanston aldermen couldn’t agree on a proposed apartment licensing ordinance started work Thursday evening.

The draft ordinance the committee is using as a starting point for its discussions calls for inspecting each of the estimated 10,000 dwelling units that would fall under the ordinance at least once every four years.

But the committee learned from one of its members, local landlord Albert Bowen, that rental properties paid for under the federal housing choice voucher program, also known as Section 8, already are inspected each year by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city’s community and economic development director, Steve Griffin, said he wasn’t familiar with those inspections and would have check into whether they might meet the city’s inspectional goals.

The proposed ordinance would charge landlords $26 per unit each year for a license. That would generate more than $250,000 a year, and would fund about half of the city’s property standards inspectional staff.

Griffin insisted, “This is not about money, it’s about safe occupancy for those tenants.”

But Bowen said it appeared the city was just trying to raise extra money on the backs of landlords.

The draft ordinance would exempt owner-occupied two-flat properties from the license rules, on the theory that they tend to be well maintained.

But there was little indication at the meeting of what proportion of other properties in the city present the sort of life safety and housing standards problems city officials say the ordinance is designed to address.

Update 11 a.m.: In a phone interview this morning, Griffin said the city currently has two dozen properties that have open violation cases. He said he didn’t have numbers readily available for how many properties might have violations over a longer period, like a year.

The committee was told not to deal with what may be the most controversial aspect of the city’s rental housing regulatory scheme — the rule that prohibits more than three unrelated individuals from living in the same dwelling unit.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, a member of the licensing committee, said that issue was going to be addressed by the Plan Commission.

Committee member Lisa Pildes, a homeowner who also owns rental properties in the city, said the current rule occupancy rule appeared to be unfair, since some properties in town — including some directly across from the Civic Center on Ridge Avenue — have four bedroom apartments.

Wilson also suggested that it might be wise to just inspect a sampling of units in larger buildings.

It wouldn’t make sense, he suggested, to inspect every unit in the high-rise Park Evanston building on Chicago Avenue downtown.

Committee members also floated a variety of other ideas — from assigning letter grades to buildings based on the inspection results to having the license duration be longer than one year if a building gets a high score on its initial inspection.

Homeowner Barbara Janes suggested that having frequent police calls to a property should be grounds for denying a rental license.

But Wilson said it would be unfair to penalize landlords for that. Wilson, an attorney, said, “I’ve represented a lot of landlords who’ve had a lot of problems getting a problem tenant out.”

“If they don’t pay rent, or if they break something, you can get them out,” he said, but for police calls, unless it’s a drug issue, the courts generally won’t approve an eviction.

“Inspections aren’t going to solve problems of noise and partying,” he added.

The committee will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. on April 19.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Is this a solution looking for a problem?

    Is this a solution looking for a problem?  If this is a safety issue, in the past few years what safety issues have led to injuries in rental units?  Where the injuries due to the renter or the owner?  Are these injuries disproportioned to owner occupied homes and condos? If not there is no “safety issue” it is just a money grab by the city of Evanston.

  2. No need for a new rental ordinance; just new leadership

    Already this committee is thinking of ways of denying landlords a rental license.

    Appointed committee member Barbara Janes, who lives near Northwestern and who is on record saying "[Northwestern] students seem to have a sense of entitlement that they can do whatever they want to do when they want to do it," suggested to strip a rental license away if there are frequent police calls to a rental unit. It seems Jane has a bias here, wouldn't ya say?

    And now this committee is discussing how to inspect 10,000 rental units. Here we go again – more government means higher taxes.

    At the same time, the North Shore Board of Realtors is claiming that Evanston city officials are blacklisting landlords who own property around Northwestern. And last year, Northwestern students began complaining that the city was quietly enforcing the "brothel law."

    Two aldermen reportedly passed out a list with the names of 52 landlords who had alledged building code violations, and Mayor Tisdahl later mentioned it at a public meeting. Steven Griffin, the city’s Community and Economic Development director, vowed that the city would work with NU Student Affairs staff to aggressively advertise properties with current code enforcement cases pending so that NU students “are advertised not to enter into leases for the 2012/13 school year.”

    The landlords on the list were NEVER notified and the alledged violations were not investigated because as it turns out there were no violations.


    So how does the city respond to this PR disaster? Why they shrug it off and go full head of steam to create a rental license ordinance without EVER discussing a need for one. How did landlords and renters ever manage without a rental license ordinance in the past 125 years?

    I seriously think there should be a committee to review Griffin's work performance and take internal action against his and the city's embarassing and unprofessional landlord "blacklist."

    Heads should roll because Evanston city officials continue their negligence, carelessness, and ceaseless  attacks on the private sector that will result in yet another lawsuit. 

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