A small, vocal group of Skokie residents are imploring the Skokie Village Board to adopt a proposal that would establish different nuisance and criminal penalties for Skokie renters compared to homeowners. Under the proposal, rental units in Skokie would be licensed and if a tenant allegedly engages in nuisance or criminal behavior than the Village could rescind the license and, according to proponents, the tenants would have to vacate the unit. At the same time, those that can afford to or choose to own a home can engage in even worse behavior and face no loss of housing. Not only is such a proposal fundamentally inequitable, but it sends a message that Skokie renters should be considered lesser residents of Skokie.
What is more, this concept profoundly conflicts with Illinois’ Forcible Entry and Detainer Act which governs the ability for landlords to evict tenants. The only lawful way for a landlord to regain possession of leased property is to file a lawsuit under the Act claiming that the tenant is occupying the rental unit without right. There is no allowance in state law to evict tenants based on a municipality revoking a rental license. This will place property owners in the unenviable position of choosing between compliance with state or local law.
Worse, the Village should be concerned with the unintended consequences of such a policy. Chief among them is that some renters or property owners, with loss of housing always hanging over their head, may be reluctant to call the police for assistance.
Another unintended consequence is that license revocation may simply shift nuisances. Those ejected from one property can simply rent a unit in another Skokie property. In the interim, evicted tenants will need immediate housing and will likely move-in with friends or relatives who may also live in Skokie which may lead to overcrowding and more nuisance conditions. If the evicted tenants do not have someone nearby who can take them in, they may resort to living on the streets. To the extent that children are involved, loss of housing can lead to loss of stability and disruption to schooling.
Lastly, rental licensing may lead to disinvestment in Skokie real estate causing increased vacancies and decreased property values. With a near-endless choice of communities to invest in real estate, some property owners will surely choose to invest in one of the vast majority of communities without such regulations.
While writing this article, this author can’t help but to think of his grandparents – William and Pearl Handler – who escaped pre-World War II Poland and spent their golden years as Skokie renters. While they were never able to afford to own a home, like so many other renters and homeowners, they helped positively contribute to the unique, inclusive community that is Skokie.
The Skokie Village Board is set to discuss this proposal this Monday, July 16 at 8:00 p.m. at Skokie Village Hall. Tenants and property owners are welcome to attend and weigh-in on the discussion.