A vacation rental industry website says Evanston has more that 130 vacation rental properties — but the city says just over one in ten of them have a required city license.

Data from the city’s 311 system, obtained by Evanston Now through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that only two people have complained about unlicensed vacation rental properties here in the past 21 months.

And while eight potential vacation rental operators inquired about licensing their properties during that time, none of those inquiries appear to have led to the issuance of a license — or enforcement action for failure to get one.

So it appears most vacation rental operators have concluded there’s no point in bothering to pay a $250 fee and go through an elaborate licensing process with the city, or pay a $150 annual license renewal fee.

Evanston’s City Council adopted the vacation rental licensing ordinance on a 5-4 vote a decade ago, several months after hearing complaints from neighbors about two properties — one on Ashland Avenue just south of Ryan Field, the other on Dobson Street.

At the time, Airbnb and other vacation rental websites had a total of about a dozen properties listed in Evanston.

Data Evanston Now requested from AirDNA, a site that offers market research data to investors in short-term rental properties, indicates that Evanston had perhaps 120 vacation rental properties by 2019.

That number declined sharply in the depth of the pandemic before rebounding to its current level.

In late 2017 the city expanded its 7.5% hotel tax to apply to vacation rentals and in early 2018 the biggest vacation rental listing site, Airbnb, signed an agreement to automatically collect and remit the tax to the city on behalf of its vacation rental hosts.

That removed any incentive for city officials to bother chasing after individual hosts to collect the hotel tax.

Evanston Now asked City Manager Luke Stowe by email about the status of vacation rental licensing in the city.

In an emailed response, city spokesperson Jessica Mayo said the city doesn’t recover the cost of the licensing system from fees because of the inspections and other work required.

Part Two: How’s business for vacation rental operators?

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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