City ready to enforce home-sharing regulations

on Aug11

11 August 2017 | 5:00 am

Four months after Chicago’s stalled home-sharing regulations took effect, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has begun the painstaking process of registering Airbnb hosts.

By the close of business Friday, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Services will start issuing approval notices for 4,000 approved units listed on Airbnb.

“When they get their registration, it means that they’re good to go. They’re good to continue to operate. They are going to be receiving their registration number, which means they are approved to be a host and therefore rent those units,” said Business Affairs and Consumer Services Commissioner Rosa Escareno.

Airbnb units are the only ones approved by the city because Airbnb is the only company that has been licensed.

Letters have been issued to a handful of other home-sharing companies urging them to start the licensing process, the commissioner said.

Homeowners renting another 1,200 units will be notified that their units are “pending denial,” as Escareno put it. Some of those units are in 1,500 buildings that have taken steps to prohibit home-sharing on the premises. Others are pending denial for a variety of other reasons primarily tied to zoning or building code violations.

Since the ordinance requires due process — and an appeals hearing within 10 days of request — those pending denial letters will be mailed in phases.

What does a homeowner do in the interim?

“If they are working through a licensed intermediary — and in this case, Airbnb is the only licensed intermediary — they should continue to operate,” Escareno said.

“However, once we reach you and you have a pending denial notice, it is incumbent upon that person to appeal if they feel they are eligible. We’ll put it through that process. But once you get that final denial, you must de-list,” she said.

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Chicago aldermen have questioned whether City Hall has the will or the manpower to rigidly enforce the new regulatons.

Escareno argued Thursday that will not be a problem.

“Building a system that can help us more precisely identify a unit in a location is one of the most important parts of this,” the commissioner said. “If we deny it, you go through the appeals and you’re still denied, now we have your address. If we do a search for your address and you continue to list, we don’t have to go and knock your door. We could issue citations.”

The City Council’s 43-7 vote to regulate the burgeoning home-sharing industry followed months of contentious debate on how to balance the interests of Airbnb hosts, who are thrilled with the extra income from booking their spare rooms, with the concerns of neighbors, who are sometimes dismayed by the rowdy antics of some short-term renters.

To appease aldermen whose wards have been overrun by home-sharing, the mayor allowed residents of individual voting precincts to “go dry” and ban Airbnb and its competitors from residential neighborhoods, using a petition process similar to the one used to block bars and liquor stores.

Prior to the final vote, Emanuel also backed off his threat to hold Airbnb responsible for policing its home-sharing hosts to avoid the threat of a federal lawsuit.

Instead, the ordinance imposed a $60-per-unit fee to generate more than $200,000 a year for enforcement of the regulations. That’s in addition to a 4 percent surcharge on Airbnb and other home-sharing bookings and a $10,000 annual license for each of the web-based companies.

The ordinance also mandates biweekly registration reports to the city, a 24-hour hotline and a requirement that Airbnb develop a plan to address “quality-of-life concerns” that includes “removal of problem units” from the company’s home-sharing platform.

The new regulations had the grudging support of Airbnb, the industry-leading home-sharing website that has seen its multibillion-dollar business model threatened by new regulations as cities across the globe have tried to rein in the explosive growth of the home-sharing platforms.

After the vote, Airbnb host Tracy Thirion warned that the online registry of home-sharing listings that includes the license number has the potential to turn Airbnb into a convenient online listing of potential targets for burglars, complete with a calendar of when the home will be vacant and lavish pictures showing the merchandise available inside.

Would-be thieves could compare the addresses on the city’s registry to listings on Airbnb and other sites, and easily deduce which rentals are which, Thirion said. She called it a “burglar’s paradise” even though that was clearly not the mayor’s intention.

But Escareno argued Thursday that homeowners can rest easy.

“This is a secure system that we have developed,” she said.

The city is using this as a registration system. . . . We have our own system that we have developed for the city of Chicago. This is not something that’s gonna be out there providing peoples’ personal addresses and information.”

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