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An article in the Daily Northwestern that included a list of properties and landlords under investigation by the City ignited an eruption at City Council on Monday night, Oct. 11. The controversy overshadowed and drowned out the ordinance under discussion, a measure that would significantly increase fees imposed on landlords across the City.
A committee of students, elected officials, and university staff known as the City-Northwestern Housing committee (said Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons) has been working to address students’ off-campus issues. The committee generated a list of “problem buildings,” including their landlords, and provided that list to the Daily Northwestern.
About a dozen of those landlords appeared at the Council meeting to protest loudly, with shouting, finger-pointing and threatened litigation included. The problem seemed to be that no one could explain how a building got on the list.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked if the list was generated from complaints made by students. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th ward, asked repeatedly what it took to get on the list.
Jeff Murphy of the City’s building department said that the list was published on the City’s website, but none of the alderman could find it. He described the list as, “a compilation of complaints,” including “calls from graduating students who are not getting security deposits back [and tell the City] there were five people living there.” The list also includes buildings that have been inspected by the City in which problems had been found.
Controversy erupted over this issue last winter when the Daily published an article dubbing the City’s overcrowding ordinance the “brothel law.” The ordinance prohibits three or more unrelated persons from occupying property under certain circumstances. With the publication of the “bad landlord” list, the controversy reignited.
The real issue before the Planning and Development Committee, however, was a proposed ordinance that would significantly increase the fees the City charges rental property owners in Evanston. The City currently collects about $70,000 in Building Rental Registration fees according to a staff memo. The new ordinance would replace the registration fee with a licensing fee based upon a $26 per unit per year fee. Based upon an estimated 12,373 applicable rental units in the City, the $70,000 would increase to over $321,000.
Along with the increase in fees, the draft ordinance would allow for the revocation of a license if landlords continually fail inspections. Amid the din generated by the “brothel ordinance” and “the list of 52” distraction, Ald. Wilson, chair of the Planning and Development committee, moved the proposed ordinance forward. It will appear on the agenda in coming weeks.