The City’s sweeping overhaul to its nuisance premises and rental licensing ordinances, reviving an effort started in 2008, revisited in 2012, and announced as a priority again in the late fall of 2015, was introduced by a hesitant City Council Monday night, Feb. 22. While the nuisance portion, now styled the “neighborhood integrity ordinance (NIO),” passed unanimously, the licensing ordinance limped through on a somewhat confusing 5-4 vote.
Landlords filled Council chambers to protest numerous aspects of the proposed changes. Joining speakers attending for the debate on the proposed apartment building at 831 Emerson St. and the debate on the waste transfer station settlement, the size of the crowd forced Fire Chief Greg Klaiber to move citizens out of chambers into the lobby and ultimately down the hall to an overflow room where the meeting was streamed live.
The proposed ordinances as currently structured would give the City authority to revoke a landlord’s license, consign a property into a different “tier” and charge the landlord higher annual fees as a result, and levy escalating fines and fees against landlords. Fines and fees are based on the activities and behavior of tenants housed in landlord properties.
Dan Schermerhorn of Schermerhorn and Company typified the majority of landlord sentiment. “I think everybody in this room is in favor of doing whatever we can to stop crime and nuisance in Evanston… but you are asking landlords to take personal responsibility for the behavior of tenants and it is not jot a viable solution for the problem that we’re trying to solve,” he said.
Other landlords were more blunt, with at least two claiming the ordinance would push more and more people out of Evanston. Don Flayton, who bought property in Evanston about five years ago, said, “Frankly, I am starting to regret it. …” He called the ordinance “frightening,” because just one bad day with a tenant could “bring me within the orbit of this ordinance.” The vague authority granted to the City allows City officials to “easily punish a landlord that they see fit to punish…. Why is it that when a City doesn’t have the personnel or the funds, or the competence, to enforce the existing laws and regulations, it then goes out to make more laws?”
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, opened Council discussion by attempting to consolidate portions of the licensing ordinance into the NIO ordinance. “The difficulty with licensing – I’ll call them the deal killers – are the amount of resources required to inspect all the properties” and aspects of the ordinance that could result in “putting out the tenants” in violation of Illinois state law.
He suggested incorporating some of the licensing tools, calling them “good tools,” within the NIO. “The rest of the licensing ordinance is fraught with problems,” he concluded.
“Good tools, bad tools – that’s very subjective, Alderman Wilson,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. But she agreed there were problems with the licensing ordinance. “When you have an ordinance that causes this much dissention, there’s something wrong with it,” she said. She suggested a subcommittee to address the issues raised, and moved to table the ordinance.
Ald. Rainey’s motion to table did not get a second.
The NIO was introduced by a 9-0 vote. A motion to introduce the licensing ordinance then came to a vote after the failure to table, and passed by 5-4 vote. Both were introduced, and require a second reading on March 14 and a majority vote to become Evanston law. Residents can expect another packed Council chambers on that night.