Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) has waited a long time for the city to put in place the registration system needed to police the home-sharing industry dominated by Airbnb. Now, she’ll have to wait a little bit longer.
The City Council’s License Committee on Wednesday pushed back — from April 1 to June 1 — the effective date of some of the stricter regulations on the once-burgeoning industry approved by the City Council in September.
The ban on single-night rentals intended to crack down on party houses has already taken effect. So has the stronger enforcement authority granted to Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno, triggering thirteen citations.
But Matthew Albee, BACP’s deputy commissioner for business licensing and permits, told aldermen that the city needs two more months to develop and test a system that will make the city the “point of intake for registration applications.”
Albee noted the original six-month timetable was “an aggressive one” that his department tried to meet to “do away with the pass-through system and begin the process of verifying and correcting host data” provided by the companies.
“We hit the ground running. Things were on pace. And it was only ... after the February City Council meeting that we learned from our vendor who is building out the intake portal here that, due to some of the complexities with our registration system, some coding issues would ultimately delay the delivery of this new system,” Albee said.
“We want to ensure that we have sufficient time to test the new system to make sure that it’s operating as we need it to before it does go live ... and begin intaking registrations and begin the process of correcting the realm of host data that we do have.”
Smith said she is disappointed by the delay, but understands technology upgrades can “take a little longer.” Had the effective date not been pushed back, there would have been a “gap in enforcement,” she said.
“My concern was that the old ordinance was really based on the platforms not providing sufficient information. The idea was that this new system will allow the city on the front-end to monitor the registration of these units and not have to be stuck with the kind of inaccuracies and lack of information that the platforms had,” Smith said.
“You can say that your name is Mickey Mouse when you register a unit under one of these platforms because they don’t really check. But the city would. So this is a delay, but what can you do?”
Smith said she hopes this is the only delay and that once the new registration system is up and running, the city will dedicate the manpower needed to police it.
“I would expect the city to do its job. And if it doesn’t, we will be right there,” she said.
After monitoring the trade publications, Smith said it’s clear a shared housing industry that was booming before the pandemic has gone in “several directions” since the coronavirus shuttered many Chicago hotels and caused occupancy levels in other hotels to plummet.
“Some people have just put them back on the market as long-term rentals. That ... is the best outcome. We need housing in the city,” Smith said.
“I’ve read in the trade press that some people are using these as homes away from home. That is obviously restricted to people who can afford that kind of thing. And others, as we know, have been used to have illegal parties. That problem is still out there.”
Just days before the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the pandemic, aldermen got an earful about the party house problem from some of Smith’s constituents.
They included Old Town resident and filmmaker Rich Christian, who described his running battle against the building next to his in the 1700 block of North Sedgwick Street that has been the scene of raucous parties.
Christian played a video on that day showing a stream of partygoers entering and leaving the building next to his “at all hours of the day and night” over a 17-month period ending in 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 said then.