Chicago City Council: Renters’ Rights, A Vacant Land Plan And Aiming To End ‘Party Houses’

For Rent Sign
A new ordinance requires landlords to notify tenants 60 days in advance of raising rent or not renewing a lease. If the renter has lived at the property for three or more years, the landlord must give 120-days notice. The old requirement was 30 days for all tenants. Michael Lansu / WBEZ
For Rent Sign
A new ordinance requires landlords to notify tenants 60 days in advance of raising rent or not renewing a lease. If the renter has lived at the property for three or more years, the landlord must give 120-days notice. The old requirement was 30 days for all tenants. Michael Lansu / WBEZ

Chicago City Council: Renters’ Rights, A Vacant Land Plan And Aiming To End ‘Party Houses’

Chicago aldermen met virtually once again before taking a break from legislating during the month of August, as they do annually. There weren’t many big disagreements and far fewer requests to “mute yourselves when you’re not speaking” from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

One controversial item — a $500,000 settlement in a transparency lawsuit seeking police misconduct records dating back to 1967 — was held in committee after aldermen pushed back during a heated committee debate on Monday.

The meeting also featured at least an hour of congratulatory remarks for a few outgoing city hall employees: Department of Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland and First Deputy Police Superintendent Anthony Riccio, who are both retiring, and Tiffany Sostrin, Deputy Director of Legislative Counsel and Governmental Affairs, who is taking a job at the Chicago Park District.

Here’s what else you missed.

Renters will get more notice of rent hikes and lease non-renewal, but permanent eviction protection up for debate in September

Chicago renters will now have more time to find a new place if their landlord raises the rent or decides not to renew their lease.

Despite opposition from 14 aldermen, the Fair Notice Ordinance, as it’s been called, passed and now requires landlords to notify tenants 60 days in advance of raising rent or not renewing a lease. If the renter has lived at the property for three or more years, the landlord must give 120-days notice. The old requirement was 30 days for all tenants.

Several aldermen voted against the measure because they worry it will put landlords into foreclosure.

“We’re just destroying the small guy,” said Ald. Nick Sposato, 38th Ward, noting that many landlords in his ward oversee small owner-occupied two- or three-flats.

But Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward, pointed out that owner-occupied buildings with six or fewer units are exempt from the new rules. That exemption was added after several people raised concerns about mom-and-pop landlords.

“This is really … a very fair, a very balanced approach for everybody,” said King. “There’s a lot of suffering going on, but I think this is a very good start.”

Several progressive aldermen called the measure a step in the right direction, but urged the council to expand protections against eviction. An ordinance that would do just that had been stuck in the Rules Committee, where legislation goes to die. But it was moved to the Housing Committee and is expected to get a vote in September.

Impoundment practices overhauled as aldermen pay out $5M class action settlement

Chicago is changing how and when police are allowed to impound people’s cars. Aldermen approved a 16-page ordinance that caps storage fees for owners at $1,000 and eliminates minor offenses, like playing loud music or littering, that could be used to justify impoundment.

The changes were introduced by the mayor last month after a WBEZ investigation found significant problems with the program which also saddled thousands of drivers with thousands of dollars in storage fees.

Another significant change is an end to automatic impoundment for those driving on a suspended license if the underlying cause of the suspension was parking tickets.

The city and state passed laws ending the practice of license suspensions for parking tickets, but tens of thousands are still indebted to the city, with many of the cases being associated with a bankruptcy.

Overhauling the impoundment program comes at the same time as the city settles a class action lawsuit involving more than 350 vehicles whose owners argued were wrongfully impounded. The $5 million payout will result in about $10,000 for each victim.

City reveals housing plan for land it owns in Woodlawn near Obama Presidential Center

For years, the city has been sitting on a lot of vacant land in the south side Woodlawn neighborhood. When former President Barack Obama announced he would be building his Presidential Center right next door, residents wanted to know what the move would mean for the community.

This week, Lightfoot and the area’s two aldermen, Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward, and Jeanette Taylor, 20th Ward, unveiled a set of proposals for land use and affordable housing aimed at preventing displacement in Woodlawn. It includes a commitment of more than $4.5 million from city coffers and vows to leverage another $5 million from banks and lenders.

The ordinance also stipulates that projects built on 25% of city-owned vacant land must have 30% set aside for the lowest-income earners. Additionally, the measure would give renters a “right of first refusal” if their landlord decides to sell their property. In that situation, the renters living in the building would have the right to form a tenant’s association and buy their building to maintain it as affordable housing.

It will still need full City Council approval.

Lightfoot proposes stricter rules for Airbnb, other homeshare vacation rentals

The mayor and the Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Rosa Escareno want to crack down on “party houses” and other disruptive vacation rental properties.

The biggest change would end single-night reservations on platforms like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO.

According to the mayor’s office, the ordinance would also move to a tiered licensing fee to make it easier for small operators to become hosts, while increasing the per-unit registration fee.

The reforms still need approval from aldermen.

Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.