Back to the Drawing Board
By Shawn Jones
A renewal of the City’s failed effort to license landlords and rental units met overwhelming opposition from the landlord community on March 14 at City Council. Rather than attempt to amend the ordinances, Council voted instead to form a subcommittee to review and possibly rewrite the neighborhood integrity ordinance and bring an improved policy to Council later in the spring. The proposed landlord licensing ordinance was unanimously rejected.
Companion ordinances, a neighborhood integrity ordinance (NIO) strengthening nuisance regulations and a landlord licensing ordinance replacing and strengthening the current registration law, were introduced at Council in late February.
They sought to address City and community concerns over irresponsible landlords and problem tenants in Evanston. Such properties, said City officials, lead to disproportionate use of City resources and unfair living conditions for some tenants and neighbors.
The proposed solution, however, met with almost universal outrage among landlords near and far. Organizations such as the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Open Communities, and the ACLU contacted the City criticizing the proposals. High fines, concentration of authority in one person, de facto eviction of innocent tenants, and potential penalization of victims of stalking were among concerns raised.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, attempted to defuse some of the concerns with the proposals by suggesting amendments to the NIO. The licensing ordinance, he proposed, would be set aside or voted down. “My expectation would be that the original registration ordinance would be revisited,” said Ald. Wilson.
His proposed amendments to the NIO were designed to tweak language to remove ambiguity as to authoritarian readings and a perceived lack of due process. He also suggested incorporating some of the collaborative and training elements from the licensing ordinance into the NIO.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, objected. “This is no way to produce best practices,” she said. “I do not have a good enough handle” on the suggested amendments to even vote on them, she said. “This has brought out even more people than the 831 Emerson project. This is a citywide concern,” she continued.
“We received an ordinance from City staff that we were not prepared to buy into,” she said. “Let’s sit down and really get into this.” She suggested a subcommittee made up of three aldermen and three landlords from small, midsized and large properties to look at the proposed NIO.
Ald. Wilson ultimately agreed and withdrew his proposed amendments to the NIO. “What I’ve suggested doesn’t make it perfect,” he admitted. But he also urged Council to “take licensing off the table.” The proposal to replace registration with licensing has “caused too much anxiety and angst,” he said.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, long a proponent of licensing, gave her blessing to the subcommittee proposal. “I’m comfortable withdrawing licensing as long as we’re going to revisit the registration ordinance,” she said.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz suggested a 60-day timeframe for the subcommittee to complete its review of the NIO.
Alds. Wilson and Rainey and Ninth Ward Alderman Brian Miller agreed to serve on the subcommittee, and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she would review nominations for the three landlord slots and expected to appoint those members shortly.