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Bracing for evictions, City Council approves ‘Fair Notice’ ordinance to protect renters

Tenants who’ve lived in an apartment at least six months now have 60 days to find move out if landlords increase rent, don’t renew leases or terminate multi-year or month-to-month leases. Tenants in their units more than three years get 120 days.

A “For Rent” sign.
The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance strengthening protections for tenants, but some aldermen said the measure goes too far.
Sun-Times file

Bracing for “mass evictions,” a divided Chicago City Council agreed Wednesday to give renters more notice — up to 120 days — before landlords terminate their leases or raise their rents.

The final vote was 35 to 14. Proponents called the protections the “bare minimum” for renters who have lost jobs or had paychecks cut during the pandemic.

Opponents warned 120 days’ notice was too long and puts too much pressure on the owners of small residential buildings.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critic, asked for a roll call vote, only to stop himself and ask to speak.

Lightfoot could have cut him off and proceeded with the vote, but she didn’t.

“Thank you, Madame President. I appreciate that — truly,” the alderman said.

Mandatory protections put “another undue burden on small-unit owners” who are the “backbone of Chicago neighborhoods,” Lopez argued.

“We will have a foreclosure crisis on these units if we continue with policies like this that do not incorporate some sort of relief for those small-unit building owners,” Lopez said.

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) noted it “takes forever” to get rid of a “bad tenant.”

“We’re just destroying the small guy. … People are not gonna want to own apartment buildings in this city anymore. We’re making it too tough on `em,” Sposato said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) acknowledged renters “at risk of being displaced” need relief. But a number of his constituents bought studios and one-bedroom apartments as investment properties.

“Without recognizing the mortgage obligations many of these small landlords have, we could inadvertently be forcing foreclosures on folks who are otherwise providing space for tenants to live,” Reilly said.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), dean of the Socialist Caucus, countered that the mayor’s ordinance is a “good start,” but only a start.

“Other cities have moved forward on much stronger tenant protections. I hope that we, as a city, will also do that. We need to move forward on just cause for eviction,” he said.

Currently, tenants get 30 days notice before rent increases or non-renewal of leases. It’s “nearly impossible to land on your feet well” in that period of time, Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara has said.

The ordinance championed by Lightfoot includes a sliding scale of protections. Tenants who have lived in their apartments for at least six months but no more than three years would have 60 days to find new housing when landlords either increase rent, refuse to renew leases or terminate multi-year or month-to-month leases.

Renters in their units more than three years get 120 days. The mayor’s office called it “one of the longest notice periods in the country.”

The Fair Notice Ordinance wasn’t the only housing controversy aired Wednesday.

When Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) argued Lightfoot’s plan to extend the life of a historic landmark district in Pilsen would make the gentrifying neighborhood even less affordable, the mayor gave it back to him and then some.

“The purpose of this six-month extension is to allow for continued engagement, sir. This is not blindsiding. This is not anything other than trying to give you plenty of time and your community plenty of time to be heard,” Lightfoot said, her voice rising.

“I take great umbrage to the suggestion that you were blind-sided or anybody in your community was, given the enormous amount of time that [Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice] Cox … spent with you. You may not be happy. But to suggest that somehow this was sprung on you is simply not correct.”

Lightfoot also introduced a sweeping ordinance tightening regulations on Chicago’s home-sharing industry — and lowering the boom on party houses.

Hosts would be prohibited from listing units or accepting reservations while license applications are pending. No longer could shared housing units be used for single-night reservations. And the ordinance would also make it easier for the city to revoke registrations after one illegal party or complaint about overcrowding.

Other City Council action

Wednesday’s action-packed meeting was the last before the traditional August recess.

Before adjourning, aldermen also:

• Imposed new safety requirements on senior buildings, including food and medicine delivery and mandatory tenant checks.

• Authorized the Chicago Cubs to play Friday and Saturday night games at Wrigley Field during the pandemic-shortened season.

• Ratified an arbitrator’s ruling with police supervisors that ends the 40-year ban on anonymous complaints and will lay the groundwork for similar disciplinary changes with the larger and more militant Fraternal Order of Police.

• Strengthened requirements in the rare instances when developers seek to use implosion to demolish buildings to prevent a repeat of the April 11 debacle at a shuttered coal-fired power plant in Little Village.