The only two renters on the Evanston City Council pushed Wednesday evening for adoption of an ordinance that could deny landlords the right to receive income from their property.

At the housing subcommittee session, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the change from the city’s current registration system for landlords is needed to force landlords to comply with the city’s property standards rules.

Dan Schermerhorn.

Several landlords and property managers, including Dan Schermerhorn, of Schermerhorn & Co., protested the licensing proposal, saying they’ve worked hard for decades to provide good housing and follow the city’s rules.

Angel Schnur.

The city’s property standards supervisor, Angel Schnur, said she could count on the fingers of two hands the number of problem landlords in town.

But she said a lack of staff and an obsolete software system for tracking violations has hamstrung the city’s inspection program.

While the city once claimed to inspect all rental properties every other year, Schnur said that more recently has stretched to as rarely as once every five years.

In addition, she said, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inspectors have generally only responded to complaints — rather than making proactive inspections.

The city currently only has three of its five housing inspector positions filled.

In response to a question, Schnur said the city would need to have seven to nine inspectors plus additional office staff to be able to run a program that could keep up with complaints and also conduct a proactive inspection program.

Clare Kelly.

The subcommittee’s chair, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), asked whether the city can effectively track owners who hold their properties under the names of different limited liability companies to establish patterns of who causes the most problems and conduct what some cities call “portfolio inspections.”

Sara Flax, the city’s housing and grants manager, said the city’s property database is not set up for that. “It’s an enormous shortcoming,” Flax said. “We have to implement a new database.”

But Burns claimed “it would be irresponsible” to hire additional staff before enacting the licensing scheme.

Sue Loellbach of Connections for the Homeless, asked whether landlords who now don’t comply with the rules wouldn’t just continue to rent properties despite having a license lifted.

As the meeting was ending, Reid urged that it be recessed to a new date, rather than calling a new meeting, so that the subcommittee wouldn’t have to make time for additional public comment, and the members agreed to do that.

The continuation of the meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on March 16.

A database of municipal rental regulation schemes maintained by GC Realty & Development LLC indicates that of 108 suburban Chicago-area communities listed, eight have rental licensing, 34 have a rental registration program, 24 have a “rental application” requirement and 42 have no such program.

Related: What city staff learned asking other towns how they regulate conditions in rental housing.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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