Chicago and Airbnb have battled for months over the proposed tightening of short-term rental rules in the nation’s third largest city, but the debate has also quietly rippled out into some of the smaller communities across Illinois.
From creatively interpreting existing laws to near-bans on the burgeoning industry, the cities are finding their own ways to either generate new revenues or simply quell complaints about rowdy out-of-towners.
When a noisy Super Bowl house party at a rental in the tranquil Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood prompted neighborhood complaints last year, officials rewrote their laws to discourage rentals shorter than 30 days. Officials said they prioritized maintaining the character of the community of roughly 12,500 people over the potential tourist revenue short-term rentals might bring.
“I doubt people are coming in just to vacation in Lincolnwood, though I’d love it if that happened,” said Village Manager Tim Wiberg.
Lincolnwood homeowners can now rent out for less than 30 days only once per calendar year, which Wiberg said avoids revolving door visitors while accommodating families who need to stay close to schools during a house renovation or anyone requiring suburban living during a short-term work assignment.
However, the suburb also doesn’t have many resources to enforce the rules, something echoed elsewhere.
Urbana didn’t propose new restrictions after residents griped about visitors cycling in and out of one home. Instead, officials looked to existing zoning laws and rules governing hotels and bed and breakfasts. Depending on the type of rental, Urbana requires registration and a $50 fee or a zoning permit.
Officials periodically scan listings to check for violations, though they acknowledge they don’t always have the staff. According to Airbnb’s website, there are about 150 Urbana rentals available.
“We do spot checks,” said Community Development Director Libby Tyler. “But people are very good about complaining.”
Meanwhile, a Springfield alderman has raised quality-of-life issues with summertime sublets around the capital city’s lake. Evanston beefed up rules on rentals of less than 30 days. And Wilmette has sought public input on short-term rentals.
The online listing companies have focused their energy on fighting restrictions in Chicago, where the stakes are much higher and where city officials estimate there are roughly 6,000 rental units through sites like HomeAway and Airbnb.
Chicago’s push to regulate short-term rentals follows efforts in major cities including San Francisco. Chicago aldermen who want restrictions have said short-term rentals have created issues in some of the city’s livelier neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park, where partying visitors have created defacto hotels. They described it as a threat to neighborhood identity and the long-term rental market, and hotel associations are concerned about dwindling revenues.
After a five-hour hearing last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shelved the plan for a month to address concerns.
Airbnb officials argue their services boost neighborhood spending and provide other economic benefits, which are key themes in ads the company has been running on television and the radio as both sides negotiate.
The latest draft is expected before city council members this week. Among other things, it would impose fees on short-term rentals, including a 4 percent surcharge that would generate an estimated $2 million for homeless services. It would also require companies to share data on renters with the city.
Some who use the companies to rent out extra space are concerned about new regulations.
Mark Brouwer said he traveled the country by staying in Airbnb rentals, including stops along California’s coast. The yoga teacher says the services have been a great option.
“I’ve never felt comfortable staying in hotels. It’s very standardized,” he said. “I really enjoy the adventure of staying in people’s homes and meeting new people.”
He rents out one unit of his two-flat on the Chicago’s far North Side, and said he’s worried about the potential of the city invading his privacy with data collection.
Laura Schofield, a mother of four in the city’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, said renting a room in her home for around $50 a night helps her make ends meet after a divorce. She also waitresses and is worried about it becoming harder to advertise her rental.
“We’re just scraping by,” she said. “Something flexible like this, it’s fantastic for me. I honestly don’t think I’d know what I’d do without it.”