Despite a chorus of protests from landlords at the meeting, a city committee Tuesday night advanced a bundle of tenant rights measures.
But perhaps the most controversial measure — a so-called “just cause eviction” proposal — was referred to a smaller working group of the Housing & Community Development Committee for further study
The proposals are all part of a planned rewrite of the city’s landlord tenant ordinance and were advanced by Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who was evicted from his apartment earlier this year after failing to pay rent for several months.
Reid said it’s important for the municipality to provide legal rights for tenants.
“Who is really paying the property taxes and maintenance costs on rental buildings in Evanston?” Reid asked. “It’s not the landlords. It’s the tenants paying rent to the landlord.”
“The tenant is providing the landlord with wealth,” he added. “Landlords are leveraging their financial resources to acquire property and charge other people to be able to make a profit on the fact that they have enough wealth to acquire property in the first place.”
Measures approved by the committee on 5-1 votes for incorporation into the updated ordinance include:
- Right to pay and stay — At any time before a court-ordered eviction, a tenant who paid all back rent owed plus landlord’s costs and fees would be allowed to avoid eviction. A tenant could only exercise that right once. City staff claim the measure would give tenants an opportunity to obtain emergency assistance funds.
- Ban collection of attorney fees — Landlords would be unable to recover the cost of having legal representation in pursuing eviction cases.
- Domestic violence — Restate in lease agreements the state law baring limitations on tenant’s right to contact law enforcement or seek emergency assistance.
- Right to organize — Expand the existing right to create a tenant organization to include leafleting and use of common areas in the building.
A fifth measure — giving tenants a Right of First Refusal to buy a rental property any time it went on the market — received a 3-3 tie vote but will still be included in the proposed ordinance to be reviewed at the committee’s September meeting.
That measure would let tenants force a delay in the sale of a property for up to 120 days while they attempted to secure financing to purchase the property.
It is an expansion of an existing city ordinance that now only applies to individual tenants seeking to buy their unit when a rental apartment buildings is converted to condominiums.
Three representatives of tenant advocacy groups made presentations in favor of the “just cause eviction” concept, which they claimed would stop discriminatory behavior by landlords.
Such ordinances, adopted in some other jurisdictions, typically restrict the reasons that a landlord can evict a tenant to non-payment of rent, violation of lease terms, creation of a nuisance and the owner’s intent to occupy the unit.
Given Illinois’ statewide ban on rent control, it would appear that a tenant’s failure to agree to a rent increase would have to also qualify as just cause in Evanston.
Several landlords said adding such a provision could make life intolerable for good tenants in a building, because the courts now make it difficult for landlords to evict over nuisance behaviors by problem tenants.
Mary Rosinski said in 32 years renting an apartment in her two-flat she’s had mostly good tenants, but had two people who paid the rent but “were miserable and hated my kids.”
“I don’t want to create lifetime tenants,” Rosinski added.
Another speaker, former Chicago Ald. Joe Moore (49th), said, “Problem tenants create havoc across buildings.”
“It’s very difficult to move those folks out unless they’re behind in their rent,” Moore said, “so one of the things we did working with the community was just to urge landlords, when their lease was up, not to renew it.”
“That was a very useful tool to ensure order in the community,” Moore added.
But Sue Loellbach, of Connections for the Homeless, said her organization, which operates homeless shelters in Evanston, supports adding just cause eviction rules.
“It’s incredibly important for people to stay in housing,” Loellbach said, adding “Cycling in and out of housing is really disastrous for people’s lives.”
Reid won the committee’s backing to create a working group for the just cause evictions issue, which he designed to have only two members from the nine-member committee, explicitly to evade state Open Meeting Act requirements.
Reid and landlord Hugo Rodriguez were chosen as members of the working group.
Reid said that as chair of the working group he planned to appoint three more people not members of the HCDC committee — a landlord, a tenant and a representative of a tenant advocacy group — as additional members of the working group with a goal of bringing a draft just cause eviction proposal back to the HCDC committee by October.