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Evanston aldermen raised numerous questions Tuesday night about the design and scope of a new “Neighborhood Integrity Ordinance” proposed by staff as a way to deal with nuisance properties.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, questioned why the city should devote substantial resources to recurring inspections of what a staff report said was the 85 percent of rental properties that don’t cause problems.

“It’s a pretty massive undertaking,” Wilson said, inspecting hundreds of properties every year. “If we’re devoting resources to dealing with properties that aren’t a problem, then we aren’t devoting resources to the actual problem.”

Aldermen also asked how many landlords fail to comply with the existing rental registration ordinance, and City Attorney Grant Farrar was unable to provide figures at the meeting for how many rental units are registered — and how that count compares with U.S. Census figures that indicate there are about 15,000 rental units in town.

Grant Farrar.

He promised to provide those numbers in time for another council discussion of the ordinance next month.

Ann Rainey.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, questioned the requirement that crimes take place at the property before action could be taken against the landlord by the city.

“I’ve got several guys who didn’t kill anybody in the building — but did Class X felonies somewhere else,” Rainey said. “A lot of people don’t do it where they live, but may be among the worst people you can find.”

Peter Braithwaite.

Rainey was joined by Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, in objecting to the exclusion of zoning code violations as triggers for the enforcement process.

Braithwaite said he received many complaints about someone operating an illegal auto repair business that disturbs the peace in a neighborhood.

Rainey said when that situation goes to the city’s administrative adjudication hearings over the zoning violation, the auto repair guy “brings in his mom, she cries, and they get off every time.”

Rainey said including zoning violations in the ordinance could also help deal with illegal apartment conversions “where some landlord jams tenants into the basement next to the boiler.”

Mark Tendam.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said the city has been using “a soft approach” on hoarding cases in his ward over the past year, “and that hasn’t had any effect at all” on situations that are causing rat problems.

Braithwaite said he’d like to see the ordinance address calls for service. He said a recent incident at 1802 Lake St. brought out the whole police force. “That police block party,” Braithwaite said, “probably cost the taxpayers about $10,000.”

“Imagine properties that are constantly called in with noise complaints,” Braithwaite said, “what does that cost the taxpayhers every single time?”

Delores Holmes.

Aldlerman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, emphasized complaints about student parties. “If I get four calls a day over the weekend about parties at student housing, that’s as big a nuisance as having a fight somewhere else,” she said.

Farrar said those sorts of incidents would be covered under the proposed ordinance — which would include possible fines for violations. If the fines weren’t paid they would become a lien against the title of the property, which would have to be paid off before the building could be sold.

Related stories

City wants to raise fees for troubled properties (1/19/16)

Officials report progress on nuisance properties (12/16/15)

City officials plan crackdown on problem properties (11/16/15)

City plans nuisance property crackdown (11/16/15)

Death prompts ‘drug house’ concerns (11/4/15)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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