A special committee appointed to review a proposed rental licensing ordinance voted 4-3 Thursday night to send a revised draft back to the Evanston City Council.

The proposal, originally developed by city staff, would replace existing city rules that require landlords to register their properties with a new scheme that would require a unit to be licensed before it could be rented.

It would establish penalties for renting an unlicensed unit that could reach as high as $2,500 a day.

And it creates a process for revoking licenses for building code and other violations after a hearing by the city manager.

As with other administrative decisions, the manager’s decision to revoke a license would be appealable to circuit court.

Rental licenses would have to be renewed every year.

Although Community and Economic Development Director Steve Griffin said the city currently knows of about 40 properites that have serious code violations, the ordinance would impose a license fee of $26 on each of the nearly 14,000 rental units in town, except for those in owner-occupied two-unit buildings, which would be exempt from the licensing scheme.

It became apparent during Thursday’s meeting that the ordinance would have little if any impact on a major complaint of residents living near Northwestern University — loud parties at buildings rented by students.

Because of protections in state law against arbitrary evictions, Ken Cox, an assistant city attorney, said, a landlord must go through a lengthy court process to win an eviction.

And while the city might be able to use the licensing law to goad a landlord into filing an eviction case, it would not have grounds for revoking a licenses as long as the landlord was pursuing the eviction in court.

While the license fees might raise $250,000 or more in new city revenue, Griffin said, the city still wouldn’t be able to inspect most rental units frequently.

The committee amended an ordinance provision that would  have required an inspection once every four years to instead only permit inspections that often.

Top: City staff and committee members at Thursday night’s meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. More government regulation not needed.

    Unfortunately the ordinance that was moved out the Rental Unit Licensing Committee in incomplete, contradictory, and raises more problems and concerns than it can ever solve.

    The City of Evanston's talking points regarding a rental license is ever-changing.  For months the City recognized that in order to comply with a license revocation a property owner would have to immediately eject tenants and their belongings.  After continously being pressed that state law does not allow the forcible ejection of tenants even if a property owner loses his or or her municipal rental license, the City is now agreeing but they will still fine landlords $17,000 per week for having tenants in their property even though they cannot legally evict tenants.

    Essentially, the City wants to be able to fine property owners for something the City acknowledges the landlord cannot control.

    The City has countless tools at its disposable to address problem properties or tenants — another bureacratic scheme will surely complicate matters, rather than providing much benefit.  Cook County Judge and then-Evanston Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste said rental licensing could cause more legal problems for the city rather than solving a nuisance building situation.  He is right.

  2. Proposed Evanston rental license is a sham

    Why does Evanston need a rental license ordinance? The city says it's for safey issues.

    Has the city or the Rental License Committee offered damning evidence that a portion of Evanston rentals are unsafe or unfit for occupancy? How many renters have been injured?

    This isn't a safety issue – it's a money-generating idea that probably will lead to the hiring of more inspectors to inspect the 14,000 rentals in Evanston. Before anyone wants to rent their property they must obtain a license, which means the city can and probably will send out an inspector before issuing the license. Imagine the headaches from that scenario.

    This proposed rental license would cause more headaches for landlords and gives too much power to the city manager as well.

    Would this ordinance apply to condo owners who rent their condos? 

    The whole process involving this rental license committee that includes aldermen Grover, WIlson and Grover was flawed from the start. Fiske opposed the nomination of landlord Josh Braun and Betsi Burns because she said they had dissenting opinions. Fiske apparently wants people that share HER views on the rental license committee.

    The reason why the committee exempts 2-flats is because it believes 2-flats are well-maintained. Really? Where's the proof? Am I to assume 3-flats are not well-maintained?

    Two aldermen reportedly passed out a list with the names of 52 landlords who had alleged 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 alleged violations were not investigated because as it turns out there were no violations. In other words, the city was blacklisting landlords. If this is how the city does business then can you imagine what would happen with a rental license ordinance and inspectors coming in every time you get a license?

    This rental license episode stinks, and it sends a message to Evanston property owners that the city is hostile toward property ownership. At the same time, Evanston aldermen keep raising our property taxes.

    How much more ill will can Evanstonians take from their local government?

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