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Local Voices: Evanston's "brothel law" is unrelated and antiquated

Edward Cox is a sophomore Medill student at Northwestern University.
Edward Cox is a sophomore Medill student at Northwestern University.

Northwestern students who live off campus were reminded by email to follow the city’s three-unrelated law by not living with more than two other unrelated individuals in a unit.

Despite Alderman Don Wilson’s efforts to amend the three unrelated law or what has been derided by some NU students as the “brothel law," students living off campus this school year may have to continue to conform with the outdated city code. Off-campus students will have to cross their fingers in hopes that in a city meeting held about a week before classes start, city officials will make progress toward ensuring greater living convenience for them.

On January 25, 2011 more than 400 students gathered at the Norris Center in a town hall meeting in which the three unrelated ordinance became a topic of hot debate after talk circulated that the city would be enforcing the three unrelated ordinance. About two and a half years later many of these protestors have since graduated and the ordinance is still on the books. Although city officials including the mayor say they support amending what is seen as an antiquated ordinance, the students who had carried the battle banners of reform into that town hall meeting have yet to see any changes. A delay in amending the three unrelated ordinance would not only hurt cash strapped students who want to spread the cost of rent over more students, but would also dishearten off campus students who had rallied to amend the ordinance.

That the law has never been enforced is not reassuring to off campus students. The emails students received through the off campus listserv lay out in clear terms the consequences of not following city code; it states that zoning board officials could tell landlords to evict tenants if there were more than three unrelated people living in a unit. That such a law is on the books is discouraging to students who try to live in accordance with city law.

Behind the city officials charged with rewriting public policies are less clearly defined political forces. The phantom force that have stymied reform of the “brothel law” include a group of residents that favor the status quo. To them, amending the three unrelated law might open the door to a murky future in which the uninhibited, socialite and even promiscuous habits of students would be unleashed. Such fears may be grounded in unpleasant experiences regarding off campus students, but they ultimately contribute to an increase in unnecessary tension between the off campus community and residents.

No wonder as to why Northwestern students refer to the three unrelated law as the so-called “brothel law” as if asking in a wry tone: “We’re college students, how do you expect us to behave?”

Giving the amendments to the code a clear path would establish trust between an estranged population of students and residents. 

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