In the early years of Airbnb, the popular home-rental company, it was largely billed as a way for homeowners in need of extra cash to rent out a spare room to budget-minded travelers.
It became a great way for people to visit pricey cities such as New York City, San Francisco and, of course, Chicago without having their wallets gouged by sky-high hotel rates. Everyone seemed to benefit, and it provided a tourism boost for great cities.
Soon greed got in the way. Some landlords and developers saw an opportunity to vastly improve their bottom lines and decided to convert long-term rentals into short-term vacation rentals. Some are buying properties solely with an eye on turning a big-time profit through vacation rentals. Even worse, some leave their properties unattended as renters come and go, which is an invitation to mayhem.
Long-term residents understandably fret about this. They become unnerved when they consistently see unfamiliar faces coming and going from their neighbors’ homes. Concerns turn into anger when vacation renters hold parties, get loud and obnoxious or vandalize buildings and neighborhoods.
This is no way to live. That’s why some aldermen have put up a fierce fight against Airbnb and other short-term rental companies. Chicago might actually impose meaningful regulations on this industry. An ordinance to be voted on next month calls for limiting the number of short-term rental units in buildings so a single building can’t be taken over by vacation renters.
Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, will push for further tweaks, such as limiting the number of rentals in neighborhoods. She serves Lincoln Park, an area heavily saturated with vacation rentals.
“One of my main goals is to keep people in the city to raise children in the city,” she told me. “If it changes to a tourist area, people won’t want to live here.”
I get it. My husband and I own a condominium in a beach community in another state. Our property is not listed with Airbnb but another vacation rental site. Our plan was to rent out the condo to pay down the mortgage and eventually spend winters there.
Two years after we bought it, I told my husband I could never live in that community. It’s too transient. Too few put down roots.
We have been fortunate to have respectable people rent our place. That sometimes has not been the case in other condo units, especially when too many people cram into a small space. Short-term renters have defecated in the stairwell and the swimming pool. Life there is too unpredictable to live in the area fulltime.
A handful of Chicago residents shared similar stories with me this week about public urination and defecation by short-term renters, among other complaints.
Lincoln Park resident and property owner David Lissner, 64, and others said they have no problem with people renting out rooms. “I’m all for people making money,” Lissner said. But he doesn’t want his neighborhood to resemble a college fraternity party.
Others in Lincoln Park said they fear the neighborhood is turning into a hotel district. But hotels are safer because they have security guards on hand to stop trouble.
“I love tourism,” Lissner said. “But we need to protect the fabric of our neighborhoods.”
That should be the city’s top priority.
Follow Marlen Garcia on Twitter: Follow @marlengarcia777