Ald. O’Connor wants Airbnb kept out where single-family homes dominate

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Airbnb and other home-sharing services would be off-limits in Chicago neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes, under a crackdown proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.

“People who have purchased homes in single-family zoned areas have done so without the expectation that someone would open a motel on the same block every weekend,” Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) wrote in a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times.

O’Connor did not identify Chicago neighborhoods now plagued by that problem.

Aldermen Marge Laurino (39th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st), who co-signed O’Connor’s ordinance, could not be reached.

Chris Nulty, a spokesman for Airbnb, was quick to condemn the effort to make home-sharing illegal in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes.

“For thousands of people across Chicago, home-sharing has become a lifeline. We are disappointed by attempts to remove an economic opportunity from middle-class families,” Nulty wrote Monday in a text message.

Last month, Nulty used a similar argument against city regulations proposed by Emanuel.

Specifically, he accused the mayor of punishing middle-class homeowners renting out rooms or their entire homes to supplement their income by slapping a 2-percent surcharge on Airbnb.

“Someone renting out a couch on the South Side of Chicago would be taxed at a higher rate than someone renting out the penthouse at the Four Season Hotel in downtown Chicago,” Nulty said then.

“Middle-class families are the vast majority of hosts on our platforms. They’re sharing either a room in their homes or the entire place while they’re gone. This is an additional stream of income for these families that averages $5,500 a year. We don’t feel a 2-percent surcharge on middle-class families makes sense when hotels aren’t faced with same fee. We’ve been collecting and remitting hotel taxes in Chicago since February 2015. We want a level playing field.”

To generate $1 million to support affordable housing and city programs aimed at reducing homelessness among families with children, Emanuel wants to slap that surcharge on the booking of any shared housing unit, bed-and-breakfast or vacation rental.

Airbnb and other home-sharing services would have to register their units with the city, and units rented for more than 90 nights per year would have to be licensed as either a vacation rental or bed-and-breakfast under a proposed mayoral crackdown that hotel operators have been demanding.

To protect guests and hosts alike from injuries and property damage suffered during a Chicago stay, the ordinance would require all units used as hotel rooms to be covered by liability insurance that covers a minimum of $1 million per occurrence.

Downtown Ald. Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants to scrap the mayor’s ordinance altogether in favor of enforcing the 2010 vacation rental ordinance he spent two years negotiating, only to have it largely ignored.

Six years after the ordinance took effect, City Hall has licensed only 200 vacation rental units. Airbnb, VRBO and other companies that facilitate home rentals are currently marketing more than 4,000 units.

“We have a perfectly good law on the books. The city should focus more effort and attention on enforcing that law before revising it to essentially unleash Airbnb to potentially wreak havoc on the quality of life in neighborhoods across Chicago,” Reilly has said.

“The [mayor’s] proposal would only require nightly vacation rental licenses for those units that are rented out fewer than 90 nights a year. The vast majority of Airbnb units are rented out on weekends. That’s about 52 nights a year. … The benchmark of 90 nights-a-year is far too high. You’ll see a lot of nightly vacation rental unit owners leasing out their spaces 89 nights-a-year to avoid becoming licensed and regulated. That’s a major flaw.”

Reilly has argued that Emanuel’s ordinance would “remove a lot of the key quality of life protections” the City Council painstakingly put in place.

“The transiency, the keg parties, the loud noise, destruction of property, total disregard for the neighbors. Whether you live in a high-rise condominium or on a residential street, you want to be able to enjoy a quality of life that involves being able to sleep at night and enjoying some peace and quiet from time to time,” he said.

The new effort to make home-sharing illegal in Chicago neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes comes as retiring Ald. Will Burns (4th) steps down from the City Council to accept a top job at Airbnb.

Last week, Burns insisted that his new job posed no conflict.

“I’m going to obey all applicable laws and regulations. I’m the point person on ethics,” he said.

“There’s a year period where I cannot register as a lobbyist for the city. I cannot do that. Whatever the law says is what I’m going to abide by.”

During debate on a Council resolution honoring Burns, O’Connor made passing reference to the “revolving door” clause in Chicago’s ethics ordinance.

He joked that he fully expected to see Burns back behind the chambers bending the ears of his former colleagues 366 days after his resignation takes effect.

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