Three people good, four a “brothel”

How many persons, unrelated to each other can “safely” live in a four-bedroom apartment? According to some city of Evanston residents and elected officials, the answer is three. For decades, Evanston has attempted to limit the housing choices of Northwestern University students and other non-traditional families by legislating the number of unrelated persons that can live together.

Introducing Professor Ellen Pader, an expert on this issue, is Illinois REALTOR® Martin Walsh, chair-elect of the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS®

Advocates support this law under the guise of safety. They contend that it is unsafe for four unrelated persons to live in a four-bedroom apartment, but it is perfectly safe for four related people to live in a two-bedroom apartment. In reality, they seek to limit Northwestern University (NU) students from living in their neighborhood. They want to abate the nuisances they associate with college students such as noise and garbage.

However, the city already maintains a number of ordinances that address excessive noise and debris. The unrelated persons ordinance, dubbed the “brothel law” by the local media, only serves to increase housing costs for students and other demographics while hurting property values and sales and leasing.

Enforcement of the law has varied considerably but the city has now taken a more forceful posture. Just recently, city staff publicly released a list of 52 properties for the purpose of notifying students that these properties were red flagged and should not be rented the next school year. It was quickly determined that the “violations” were often based on nothing more than complaints or suspicion with no notice to the property owners and no investigation by the city. City staff was unable to explain how properties made the list. Several Evanston alderman cried foul over the contrived list and called for its rescission.

REALTORS® and property owners are taking the lead on calling for an end to the antiquated “brothel law.” Last week, REALTORS® brought in Professor Ellen Pader, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, an expert on familial occupancy laws, for a special lecture on this subject. Her lecture garnered a significant amount of media coverage. You can watch Professor Pader’s full lecture here:


4 thoughts on “Three people good, four a “brothel”

  1. This issue seems broader than saftey. It appears to be an attempt to legislate or control unwanted behavior in a specific neighborhood. There could be 2,3 or 4 unmarried couples, or 4 or more friends living in a 4 bedroom home who pose no saftey issues at all. If they all were lound and disrespectul of the neighborhood and neighbors that would be a problem but I believe we have noise and nuicance ordinances for that.

  2. Pingback: Three people good, four a brothel? | REchick's Blog

  3. Because of the problem in Chicago with unrelated people crowding into a 2,3 or 4 bedroom apts, or single family houses, I can fully understand and appreciate the ordinance in Evanston.

  4. Catherine, thanks for contributing to this interesting discussion. What many people do not understand, though, is that the purpose of the ordinance is not to prevent overcrowding — with or without this ordinance it would still be illegal to put ten people in a two bedroom apartment. What we are talking about is allowing four people in a four bedroom apartment — which, in many circumstances, is illegal in Evanston.

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