Airbnb won’t support Emanuel’s home-sharing compromise

SHARE Airbnb won’t support Emanuel’s home-sharing compromise
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Airbnb opposes Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to allow rooms in single-family homes to be listed on Airbnb and other home-sharing services only when owners are there. | John MacDougal/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been said that you know you’ve reached the appropriate middle ground on a controversial issue when both sides are equally unhappy.

If that’s true, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has struck pay dirt in the high-stakes battle between Airbnb and Chicago’s thriving hotel industry.

Last week, Emanuel forged a compromise that did not appease aldermen whose wards have been overtaken by home-sharing services and the bachelor party atmosphere that some of those guests can bring.

On Monday, Airbnb declared its opposition to the mayor’s revised plan.

Specifically, the home-sharing giant said it cannot go along with the mayor’s plan to allow rooms in single-family homes to be listed on Airbnb and other home-sharing services only when the homeowner is present.

“For the thousands of Chicagoans who are sharing their primary residences to make ends meet — and frequently in neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes — this provision could be the difference between foreclosure or eviction and being able to stay in their homes,” Airbnb wrote in an email distributed to the news media and interested parties.

The email cited a recent survey that showed that 14 percent of Airbnb’s Chicago hosts were “saved from foreclosure eviction” thanks to the supplemental income tied to renting rooms or their entire homes.

“This policy would disproportionately affect teachers, firefighters, nurses and other middle-class Chicagoans — especially on the South and West Sides of the city where our platform is growing fastest and where hotels are few and far between — who are sharing their spaces while they’re gone for the weekend or for a hard-earned vacation,” the email states.

Airbnb also took issue with Emanuel’s plan to establish a limit of one home-sharing unit per building in two- to four-flats and allow owners, condominium boards or homeowners associations in larger multi-unit and high-rise buildings to either prohibit short-term rentals outright or limit the number of rentable units and “affirmatively notify” the city.

“This provision would have a disproportionate impact on families in working-class neighborhoods who are sharing their space in order to make ends meet,” the email states.

“This provision punishes working and middle-class families simply because their neighbors have also decided to share their homes in order to make ends meet. Moreover, for the city’s part, we are concerned this provision would prove impossible to enforce and solves a problem that does not exist.”

Finally, Airbnb opposes the mayor’s plan to require the company to “de-list” problem hosts and be held liable for those problem short-term renters.

“We believe there is a role for our company and community to play to ensure home sharing is not negatively impacting quality of life in Chicago. However, this cannot be achieved by the government handing over the responsibility of enforcing the law to a private company,” the email states.

The company goes on to say that there are “a number of tools the city can and should adopt to address quality of life concerns that would only be a more constructive solution.”

They include “higher fees or fines for nuisance violations, especially in low-density residential neighborhoods” and giving ward superintendents “authority to issue nuisance citations.”

Airbnb declared its opposition to the mayor’s compromise plan to tax and regulate the burgeoning home-sharing industry on the eve of a showdown vote before the City Council’s Zoning Committee.

Tuesday’s showdown vote is before a joint meeting of the City Council Committees on Housing and License and Consumer Protection.

Emanuel is pushing for a committee vote Tuesday before a joint meeting of the City Council Committees on Housing and License and Consumer Protection, and a full Council vote on Wednesday, even though Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd), Michele Smith (43rd) and Tom Tunney (44th) have demanded that the mayor “take the time to get it right” on an issue that could dramatically affect the quality of life in residential neighborhoods and the availability of rental housing in Chicago.

“I don’t understand why we can’t take a breath to work on this ordinance. I agree there is a place for the vacation rental industry, but this feels like a rush to judgment,” Smith said last week.

“The City Council did that once with the parking meter deal. . . . We shouldn’t do the same thing with regard to our residential streets by giving residential streets to the short-term rental industry,” she said.

Smith and Reilly are particularly upset about Emanuel’s plan to drop plans to require units rented for more than 90 nights a year to be licensed as bed-and-breakfasts or vacation rentals.

Instead, the mayor would require units listed with Airbnb and other “intermediaries” to simply register with the city as shared housing units and provide the city with monthly reports on rental activity.

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