Evanston aldermen stall vacation rental ordinances

Rachel Janik, Reporter

Discussion of Evanston’s controversial vacation rentals stalled at City Council on Monday night after proposed ordinances failed to garner support from aldermen on the Planning and Development Committee.

Vacation rentals — residential dwelling units that are rented out to visitors for less than 30 days — have been a contentious topic since late September, when neighbors complained about a rental operation at an Ashland Avenue property near Ryan Field.

Neighbors said that during Northwestern’s football season, a number of unknown visitors were staying in the Ashland home, which is listed as a rental space on the website airbnb.com. They expressed concern for the quality and safety of the neighborhood with so many strangers coming and going.

The city’s legal department offered two proposals: One ordinance would ban such operations completely, whereas the other proposal would apply a vetting and licensing process to homeowners looking to rent out their properties. Hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and other lodging units are exempt from both.

Aldermen and residents criticized both proposed ordinances for inconsistencies that they said would only complicate the problem.

Maureen O’Donnell, the next door neighbor of the property and a vocal opponent of vacation rentals, argued against the ordinance before the committee.

“I would never have bought my home if i knew that Evanston was going to give the green light to greed,” she said.

Other home owners came forward to support responsibly run vacation rentals. Many said they rent their homes via airbnb.com, and insisted the website offers a thorough screening process. Renters are often professionals coming from all over the world, they said.

The licensing proposal also exempts NU professors who want to rent out their homes while they go on sabbatical, as well as two- or three-unit homes if one unit is occupied by the owner.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said any ordinance should apply fair standards to every zoning district, whether citizens live in apartments in commercial districts or single-family homes in residential areas.

During the committee meeting, Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) agreed the ordinance proposals should be held and reworked.

“What we have is a sort of cobbled together licensing idea with carefully selected exceptions, but they’re not fair exceptions,” Wilson said.

Committee members said they intend to work through the legislation until they come up with an effective plan. Wilson, Rainey, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) and Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) were able to agree that something more needs to be done to efficiently regulate these establishments as well as to enforce current ordinance violations.