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Problem buildings to face stiffer fines

Evanston's Human Services Committee Monday approved a revised draft of an ordinance designed to pressure landlords to evict problem tenants.

The changes to the city's nuisance premises ordinance would increase maximum fines from $750 to $6,000 per day.

The measure also would strengthen the city's ability to demand landlords correct problems on their properties and in extreme cases seek forfeiture of the property to the city.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said the ordinance would allow the city to take action against a premises based on charges filed against tenants and not have to wait for resolution of the criminal charges "that wouldn't be resolved for years." This needs treatment much sooner than that, Ald. Moran said.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the strengthened ordinance is greatly needed in her ward.

She said the city has successfully cut the number of properties with serious building code violations. "Those I could count now on one hand," she said, "but I couldn't count on all the fingers and toes in this room the bad tenants."

She described as fairly typical a series of more than a dozen arrests in the past year of tenants or visitors to one nine-unit building on Custer Avenue — most on drug charges.

She added that the problems also occur in other wards — saying one single family home in the 5th Ward was the scene of nine arrests in the past year.

Ald. Rainey suggested an additional step not included in the ordinance — that the city should start to charge landlords for the cost of repeated police calls to their buildings. She said that if a plumber accidentally sets a building on fire  by misusing his torch, the city can charge him for the cost of the fire call, and it should be able to do the same for repeated police calls.

To take effect, the nuisance premises ordinance revisions still require approval of the full City Council.

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