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Aldermen stumped by vacation rentals

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Evanston aldermen wrestled again Monday with whether to ban or regulate vacation rentals but came up with no solution they could agree on.

The use of Airbnb and other vacation rental services by local residents to find paying guests for brief stays at their homes has sparked heated opposition from some residents who live near one vacation rental property.

But it’s also drawn support from other residents who either rent out their own homes without apparent incident or have had happy experiences using such services to find vacation lodging elsewhere.

The aldermen were faces with two different ordinances prepared by the city’s law department.

Both defined a vacation rental as a dwelling unit or portion thereof offered for rent for less than 30 days. But they excluded from that definition hotels and motels, lodging establishments, bed and breakfasts and home-sharing agreements.

And the ordinances exempted short-term rentals in connection with a contract to sell the property, units in two-and-three-unit buildings where one of the units is owner-occupied, rentals by professors on sabbatical and home-swapping agreements.

One ordinance would ban vacation rentals, the other would require a $50 annual license and impose various operating requirements — including a minimum 24-hour rental period. It also provides for fines for violations and gives the city the option of revoking the license under various circumstances.

The other would ban vacation rentals completely.

But no one seem satisfied with either ordinance Monday night.

The neighbors of the property on Ashland Avenue that’s been the source of complaints said even the ordinance that would ban rentals had too many exceptions.

Other observers attacked some of the exemptions as being too narrow. Why should a college professor be able to rent out his home, but a rabbi on sabbatical could not, said Howard Handler of the North Shore Barrington Association of Realtors.

He said the city should at least let people rent their homes occasionally — that its only properties that are rented out all the time that have been an issue.

People who have rented out their homes to vacationers said they’ve had wonderful “high quality” people as guests — disputing the claims of opponents that such uses bring undesirable “transients” into the community.

Neighbors who brought the initial complaints said the city should just enforce ordinances it already has on the books against unlicensed rooming houses and bed and breakfasts.

But City Attorney Grant Farrar suggested that, particularly in light of trouble the city ran into trying to enforce those rules in a recent federal court case, that the existing rules may not be effective in these cases.

And a local attorney, Jeff Smith of 2724 Harrison St., said that when he bought his home, part of the bargain was that he’d have the right to rent out his property — and he doesn’t want to see the city impose restrictions on that.

The aldermen themselves appeared to be all over the map on the issue and voted to hold the ordinances in committee and have a further discussion at their next regular meeting, April 22.

Find more detail of Monday’s vacation rental debate in the recap of our live coverage of the Planning and Development Committee meeting.

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