Lincoln Park alderman moves to strengthen Chicago’s ‘weak’ home-sharing ordinance

The ordinance, co-signed by all 50 aldermen and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, comes after aldermen heard horror stories from residents whose lives have been made miserable by party houses masquerading as home-sharing.

SHARE Lincoln Park alderman moves to strengthen Chicago’s ‘weak’ home-sharing ordinance
Near the corner of Wicker Park Avenue and North Honore Street in Wicker Park on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Some Chicago residents have complained that short-term rentals have turned into “party houses” that disturb their neighborhoods.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Four years ago, Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) accused then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel of cowering to the demands of a “$25 billion bully” in drafting a home-sharing ordinance for Chicago that was too weak to regulate the burgeoning industry dominated by Airbnb.

Now, she’s doing something about it.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Smith introduced an ordinance tightening regulations on Chicago’s home-sharing industry.

The 26-page ordinance comes just over three months after aldermen heard horror stories from residents whose lives have been made miserable by party houses masquerading as home-sharing.

Smith complained then that Chicago has 8,500 home sharing units “across a wide variety of platforms,” but only 5,300 of them are registered with the city.

Her ordinance seeks to correct those inequities. It states: “It shall be unlawful for any person acting ... on behalf of a short-term residential rental hosting platform to facilitate a booking transaction for a short-term residential rental located in this city that it not registered … and not licensed.”

To qualify for that license, the hosting platform would be required to provide an affidavit with information from “all providers with short-term residential rentals in the city who intend to utilize their platform.” Rentals must be confined to a person’s primary residence, the ordinance states.

The hosting platform would be required to “act as the ... agent for that transaction and assess, collect, report and remit all relevant taxes “ to the city, the ordinance states. Units that don’t list their city registration number must be removed from the platform.

Periodic reports to the city would be required disclosing all short-term residential booking transactions, the name of each provider and the amounts collected, including rental fees and taxes.

The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection would be granted auditing and subpoena powers.

Two of more incidents involving illegal acts on the premises, in the short-term rental’s parking facility or on adjacent property would be grounds for removal from the platform. So would two or more incidents of “objectionable conditions,” including disturbing the peace, drinking in public, loitering, excessive noise or harassing passersby. Failure to register with the city would also be disqualifying.

“If the department notifies a hosting platform in writing that an advertisement or listing on its platform for a short-term residential rental in the city fails to display a valid current and applicable license or registration number ... the hosting platform must remove all advertisements or listing for that short term residential rental from its platform within three business days,” the ordinance states.

Violators would be punished by suspension, revocation and fines as high as $53,000 per day for each offense.

Smith could not be reached for comment on the long-awaited ordinance. Airbnb spokesman Chris Nulty had no immediate comment.

The sweeping regulations are certain to be music to the ears of Old Town resident and filmmaker Rich Christian, who has battled against the building next to his in the 1700 block of North Sedgwick Street that has been the scene of raucous parties.

At a City Council hearing in March, Christian played a video showing a stream of partygoers entering and leaving the building next to his “at all hours of the day and night” between April 2018 through September 2019.

“Loud groups, loud music, violence. Sometimes, people paying for admission at the door. Under-aged alcohol and substance abuse. Police enforcement at all hours of the night. Dangerous behavior on roof decks and shoddy and unsafe building maintenance. This is now a part of my life,” Christian told the City Council’s License Committee.

“A beer can thrown onto my roof. It jammed my gutter. The first rainstorm, the gutter overflowed and leaked into my office. ... A mattress was tossed onto my roof from the illegal deck of the offending property. ... A chair was thrown onto my neighbor’s roof. One of my neighbors watched from the roof deck as a partygoer urinated onto another. Music is often played so loudly 30 feet away from my daughter’s bedroom, she can’t sleep at night.”

Christian said that day that he and his neighbors had spent four years “working within our existing legal system” to no avail.

“Police show up for the disturbance. People leave. More people show up doing the same stuff days, weeks, months and years later. The city posts a revoke sign at the door of the illegally operating property and the next hour, it’s covered by a rental sign,” Christian said.

“A huge company with internet sales. A landlord who doesn’t live on the site with a willingness to ignore any city ordinance. ... This is a recipe for destroying neighborhoods.”

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