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9/26/2012 1:48:00 PM
Rental Licensing Ordinance Moves Forward
Shawn Jones

The City’s efforts to force difficult landlords to comply with building standards while increasing revenue to pay for enforcement resulted in a revised licensing ordinance introduced by City Council Monday night, Sept. 24. The scheme will replace a registration regime that Council acknowledged was a failure.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said the City has been "working on this since 2007." The ordinance will address "problems all over the City, not just in" heavily student-occupied neighborhoods such as the Fireman’s Park area, she said. "I believe this will help."

The newly revised ordinance comes out of the efforts of a special Rental Unit Licensing Committee appointed by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. The committee included three aldermen, Northwestern student representatives, landlords, property managers, area residents and City staff, said Steve Griffin, the City’s director of Community Development.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who sat on the committee, described the ordinance as "a consensus product" that was "as close as we can get" to a good solution to the issues Council hoped to address.

Under the new ordinance, if it passes, landlords will be required to obtain a revocable license for each rental unit. Licenses cost $26 per unit, $13 per unit if the building has a sprinkler system. Owner occupied two-flats are exempt.

The key enforcement provision is the revocable nature of the license. Under the registration system, City enforcement of building standards required a certain level of compliance by the landlord. In previous meetings, Jeff Murphy, the City’s Buildings and Inspections manager, spoke about the difficulty in even inspecting premises because landlords would not show up to allow inspections. The City could issue citations, but had little power to force compliance.

A license, however, can be revoked, at which point any dwelling units for which licenses have been revoked will become illegal.

Questions remain as to the conflict between the City ordinance and Illinois eviction laws that require notice and a hearing prior to eviction. The City’s revocation of a license may well act as a de facto eviction.

The City’s Corporation Counsel, Grant Farrar, said that the Rental Licensing Unit Committee fully explored the eviction issue. In his opinion, he said, there is no conflict.

The measure was introduced easily out of Planning and Development and then on the consent agenda at Council. It will appear for final argument and vote at Council in two weeks.

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