Evanston hosts workshop to discuss short-term rental ban

Evanston resident Jill Graham said the proposed ordinance to ban short term rentals would hurt landlords in a workshop held at the Lorraine H. Civic Center.

Edward Cox/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston resident Jill Graham said the proposed ordinance to ban short term rentals would hurt landlords in a workshop held at the Lorraine H. Civic Center.

Edward Cox, Reporter

Maureen O’Donnell shuttered the shades on her house on Ashland Avenue to hide her family from the constant stream of strangers coming in and out of her neighbor’s house.

She was among residents and realtors who expressed their concerns to council members at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Saturday about a proposed city ordinance that would ban rentals under 30 days. Aldermen started discussing a proposed ordinance to license vacation rentals in September.

“This situation is so insidious, you’re put into the constant state of making decisions of, ‘Do I have to call the police?’” O’Donnell said. “It corrodes the trust and corrodes the neighborly feel.”

Aldermen listened to residents’ comments in the fifth meeting organized on the topic of renters who run bed and breakfast operations, such as renters catering to football fans during Northwestern game weekends. Many landlords list short-term rentals on travel rental sites from $65 to $189 a night.

“It used to be quieter when Northwestern was the doormat of the Big Ten,” said Evanston resident and attorney Jeff Smith (WCAS ‘77). “Now there are more teams in the Big Ten … they park all the way to my house.”

While neighbors argued renting properties is a privilege, landowners cautioned against over-regulating short-term rentals.

Smith, who himself has rented his house on weekends, represented Olufemi Davies, an Evanston resident who faced a federal complaint last year for running what neighbors called an “illegal hotel.” Davies argued, however, that there was no city ordinance forbidding such an operation.

“It’s a mistake to jump to assumptions,” Smith said. “Frankly, when there is a stranger with out-of-state plates … it’s really none of my business.”

Some aldermen said the controversy over short-term rentals was not so much a problem with strangers than a fairness issue concerning property usage in residential areas.

“We need to protect property value,” Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said. “Because that’s what it is, a commercial issue.”

Aldermen weighed solutions to the problem including banning short-term rentals completely, requiring licenses for the rentals and implementing rules already on the books.

Howard Handler, government affairs director of the Illinois Association of Realtors, said the association opposes an outright ban because many of the bed and breakfast operations are legitimate.

“I think an all-out ban may be going too far,” Handler said. “(The city should) try the best in any ordinance to separate those operations, the quasi-hotels than those (who) rent out the place for once or twice a year.”

City members will meet with residents April 1 to discuss options to deal with short-term licenses. More than 100 residents have supported a ban on bed and breakfast operations through an online petition.

Evanston resident Greg Richards, who signed the petition, said the city needs concrete measures to deal with the problem.

“This workshop has not been different,” Richards said. “It’s not very conducive to us rolling up our sleeves and getting things done.”