Top mayoral aide vows massive re-write of Chicago’s home-sharing ordinance

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno made the promise after hearing horror stories from residents whose lives have been made miserable by party houses.

SHARE Top mayoral aide vows massive re-write of Chicago’s home-sharing ordinance
A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet.

It’s simple to book a house rental online, but living near some of those properties isn’t nearly as easy, some neighbors say.

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A top mayoral aide vowed Wednesday to tighten the regulatory noose on Chicago’s burgeoning home-sharing industry after hearing horror stories from residents whose lives have been made miserable by party houses.

Old Town resident Rich Christian said he has waged a never-ending battle against the building next to his in the 1700-block of North Sedgwick that has been the scene of raucous parties.

A filmmaker by profession, 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 he was speaking for an entire block of residents.

“We’ve done everything we can for nearly four years working within our existing legal system. 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.”

But Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno made it clear changes are in the works.

She specifically recommended the city “approve the listing before a host can operate,” require host data to be “provided to the city directly” and require companies to “immediately respond to safety” complaints.

“When potential enforcement activity calls for more information, we often need to subpoena that information, which can significantly slow down investigations and any sanctions,” Escareno told aldermen.

“The ordinance does not set any requirements for the intermediaries to provide immediate response to problems. This makes it difficult for our public safety agencies to handle emergency situations when rapid identification of owner, host and rental information would be critical.”

Particularly troubling, Escareno said, is that shared housing hosts are allowed to immediately list and rent their units — for weeks, even months — before they receive city approval. They are required to remove them only upon “final denial” by her department.

“This leads to frivolous appeals to prolong the process. It also impacts neighborhoods that should not be subject to shared housing activity due to restrictions,” she said, noting that San Francisco requires city approval before listing.

Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) noted Chicago has 8,500 home sharing units “across a wide variety of platforms,” but only 5,300 are registered with the city.

Smith demanded any re-write include a provision allowing residents of congested neighborhoods like hers to opt out of home-sharing through a process similar to that used to vote a precinct dry.

That’s now available “only in those communities that are essentially all single family….the bungalow belt,” she said.

Over the last six months, Airbnb spokesman Sam Randall said his company “has started to roll out a set of tools and policies that will address many of the concerns brought up” at Wednesday’s hearing.

“We continue to be committed to working with the City on specific concerns they may have,” Randall wrote in a statement.

“Airbnb remains one of only two short-term rental platforms licensed to operate in Chicago and we believe addressing many of these issues requires ensuring all platforms are in compliance.”

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