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Residents of one north Evanston block continued to push for a ban on vacation rentals today, but the idea ran into opposition from other speakers at a City Council committee workshop.

Maureen O’Donnell of 2509 Ashland Ave. says she’s shut all the shades on one side of her house because she’s afraid that visitors to the home at 2515 Ashland may be looking in.

“It’s extremely stressful,” O’Donnell said.

She repeatedly alluded to an incident in which she said she saw a man she didn’t recognize taking pictures of children at St. Athanasius school across the street from her house, but conceded that it happened on a day when the children were having a Halloween parade down the sidewalk in their costumes.

Top: Maureen O’Donnell. Above: Mark Rosati. Below: Meghan McCallum.

Her husband, Mark Rosati, said there’s a stream of people going in in out “who we assume are guests.”

“We no longer know our neighbors,” Rosaiti said, calling the house next door “an illegal boarding house.”

Meghan McCallum, the owner of the 2515 Ashland property,  in an email message to Evanston Now last month, said, “The people of Evanston have only heard the bickering and complaints of a loud few” neighbors.

McCallum, who bought the property last year, has received positive reviews from a number of guests on the AirBnB.com website, where she lists the availability of two bedrooms in the three-bedroom home for $65 or $75 a night, and the whole house for $400 a night.

McCallum, who in her profile on AirBnB says she works as a firefighter paramedic, said the neighbors are attempting to bully her and that the they persuaded city officials to appear at her door demanding to inspect her home.

“This was an invasion of my privacy, and it scares me that if they can get away with being bulled by a few into becoming a bully themselves,” McCallum added.

Mary Rosinski.

Mary Rosinski of 1729 Chancellor St., said that as a real estate agent she was worried about an ordinance that would be too restrictive.

“I know people do house swaps with people in other states and countries and there are temporary rent-backs when people are selling their homes,” Rosinski said.

“I’d hate to see one or two instances” of problems “affect every property owner in Evanston,” she added.

John Fell, who owns a three-flat building at 2008 Harrison St., said that with city permission he recently added a vacation rental unit on his ground floor.

John Fell.

“I wanted a place for our kids to come and visit,” Fell said, adding that “Every renter I’ve had has been fantastic. These are affluent people and I totally vet them. I want to make sure people will respect my property.”

He suggested that the vacation rental concept needs to be separated from “disturbance of the peace.”

“That’s not what these people are doing,” Fell said, suggesting that problems could also develop in owner-occupied single family homes when “parents leave kids alone in their home to have parties for the weekend.”

“If you regulate in a healthy way, that’s terrific,” Fell said, but prohibiting short-term rentals, he suggested, would not be a good idea.

Jeff Smith, 2724 Harrison St., said the aldermen were considering adopting a citywide policy based on a very localized concern.

“I haven’t heard a need for a citywide ordinance demonstrated at any of the hearings so far,” Smith said.

Jeff Smith.

He said calling vacationers “transients,” as some opponents did, was stereotyping and offensive.

“When you don’t know the facts behind something, it can lead to fears, but it’s a mistake to jump to conclusions,” he added.

“We haven’t heard complaints from the police that this is a citywide problem, that it’s creating dangers, or that out-of-town guests are a greater risk than anybody else,” Smith said.

He suggested setting a limit on the number of times a property could be rented per year or month.

And he said there would be lots of ways to get around a ban that could require a lot of city staff time to police.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she believes that at least people who live in the city’s most restrictive single family zone, called R1, should be free from having a vacation rental operation next door.

Alderman Melissa Wynne.

And she suggested that a ban could be crafted in a way that would exempt professors renting out homes for sabbaticals and and people renting back their homes briefly after a sale.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she wouldn’t favor a ban, but would support licensing. And Rainey said any rules should apply to all residential districts, not just the most restrictive ones.

“People who live in rental buildings are entitled to the same protection and oversight as somebody who lives in a fancy house on Sheridan Road or Forest Avenue,” she added.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said the answer would be something she’s advocated for the eight years she’s been on the council — licensing all rental units in the city.

Alderman Delores Holmes.

Currently landlords are required to register their properties with the city. Repeated efforts to impose more stringent licensing requirements that could bar owners from renting their properties have failed in the face of opposition from landlords.

Steve Griffin, the city’s community and economic development director, said he and the city’s legal department would work on drafting two different ordinances — one to ban the rentals, the other to establish some sort of regulatory scheme for them — with each to have exemptions for some situations.

He said the two proposals would be ready for further discussion at a Planning and Development Committee meeting to be held on Monday, April 1.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

10 Comments

  1. Vacation rentals

    We had very negative experiences with a neighbor who rented out two rooms in her house for bed & breakfast in a quiet family neighborhood in another community where we owned a home for several years.    The neighbor went off to work all day, typically being gone 9-10 hours each weekday.  One of the long term female guests, who told the homeowner she was relocating, had a constant stream of male guests during the day.  It didn't take us long to figure out what was going on there.  I would want to make sure these guests have had a background check and even a DUI should be a rejection of a prospective guest.  I live in the Historic Lakefront District and our neighborhood seems ripe for B&B's and other vacation rentals.  We don't want it and would be equally vocal in opposition should the issue arise in the future.

    1. Knowledge?

      How exactly did you 'figure out what was going on there"?

      Hm, let's see, you drew your own conclusions based upon your own anecdotal evidence without any actual proof! Similar to the resident closing her shades. Did she see anyone looking in? Did you see this female neighbor accepting cash for sexual acts, as you seem to imply?

      You're also assuming that this female guest would have someting on her background check that would lead to an initial rejection. You also assume that your neighborhood is 'ripe' for B&B's and rentals.

      How do you know so much?

  2. Alderman Wynne: Protect only the wealthy?

    I have to say that as a resident in the 3rd ward who lives in an R1 zone, I'm very upset that the Alderman would see it fit to somehow "protect" people like us who live in an expensive home.  As if people who live in condos don't pay the same kind of property taxes (per square foot) that the rest of us do. That somehow just because we're fortunate to be able to purchase a house that we should somehow be entitled to a more peaceful existence.

    That is a really disheartening statement, Ms. Wynne and I have to tell you that as a long time Evanstonian who has raised his children here and as your constituent, I'm offended by the implication and deeply disappointed by your statement.  It sounds like something the national Republican Party would support – equality for all who have (the most) money.

    To be fair, I wasn't there so I have no precise understanding of the context, but I can say that even though many people in the 3rd ward live in areas zoned for apartment rentals, having someone rent for a week or even only a month is a whole new kind of issue that would be equally hard (or even harder) on the surrounding neighbors in those areas.

    Still, it leaves me with a distinct feeling that Ms. Wynne is happy to provide anyone not in an R1 zone with the negative brunt of city life while trying to preserve and look out for only the more wealthy.  Please revise your position on this, Ms. Wynne.

    In regards to vacation rentals, allowing them via permit and limiting the number available in the fairly drawn devisions of the city would be a good compromise to the problem. 

    1. Unlicensed home rentals

      I was present at the meeting and believe that Alderman Wynne’s comment about restricting rentals in R1 districts has been taken out of context.  The meeting at issue was designed to serve as a workshop wherein all parties offered suggestions on how to craft legislation to regulate short term room and home rentals.  As a starting point, Alderman Wynne suggested that home rentals be absolutely banned in R1 zones.  Whether that ban should extend beyond R1 is the next step in the inquiry. 

      The real problem though, is not the misinterpretation of Alderman Wynne’s comment. Rather, the problem is that although current City ordinances unequivocally prohibit homeowners from operating unlicensed rooming houses or bed & breakfasts anywhere in the Evanston and from operating businesses out of their homes 24/7, City officials refuse to enforce these laws and ticket violators. This failure has generated countless meetings with and among city officials and residents and has created unnecessary friction between neighbors.  As a concerned resident, I ask the City to simply enforce the existing laws that properly bar the unlicensed rental of rooms and homes in Evanston.  For the City to do nothing in the face of the blatant and flagrant disregard of the City ordinances – evidenced by surfing the internet for rooms for rent in Evanston – is, quite simply, inexcusable.

      1. Still, why start with the more wealthy…

        I appreciate you response to my comment, Kim.  And thank you for highlighting that this a workshop for ideas.  Still, it doesn't really change my feeling of what I now believe is not a misinterpretation of Alderman Wynne's comment.  If anything, it shows to me the kind of bias that the Alderman has for home owners like us and of disregard for people (and it seems to me now more families since the collapse of the housing market)  who live in condos/apartments.  It's not someone who is representing faithfully all of the people in her ward.  And I sincerely hope that she remembers that there are many folks in the 3rd that are multi-family dwellers.

        Ultimately, I agree with your conclusion.  Why so much debate and friction when an ordinance already exists to address this issue?  Existing ordinances ought to be enforced until such a time as they are revised.  Why are some people allowed to ignore the law in full exposure to law enforcement and the City Council.  I agree, inexcusable.

  3. Short-term rentals

    We thank the City Council’s Planning & Development Committee for holding Saturday’s workshop on short-term rentals. It needs to be emphasized that this isn’t an issue affecting one or two homeowners or a couple of isolated blocks, but the quality of life throughout the city. Every homeowner in Evanston needs to understand that this could happen on their block – indeed, next door to them – tomorrow. All it takes is a home foreclosure and new owners coming in with intent to turn a home into a commercial short-term hotel. Public safety, neighborhood stability, property values, the viability of legitimate hotels, and the tax base, are all at risk.

    Surf the Internet for rentals in Evanston and one can find a host of homeowners who offer daily rentals of rooms in their homes, or their entire home, at prices well below Evanston hotels and Single Residency Occupancy (“SRO”) hotels in Chicago. In so doing, these homeowners transform their homes into transient hotels, despite the fact that the Evanston City Code completely prohibits such unlicensed rentals in R1 zoned areas.

    Evanston’s municipal code delineates permitted uses in the R1 zone. Hotels, rooming houses, lodging establishments, transient hotels, bed and breakfasts, and the like are not included in the list of permitted uses.  Thus, one cannot offer rooms for rent to the public in R1 zones.  Moreover, anyone who wishes to operate a lodging establishment, a bed and breakfast, or a transient hotel in a properly zoned area, must be licensed. 

    The City recognizes that the majority of these rentals fall within R1 zones and that they are unlicensed.  More than 100 residents have signed a petition calling upon the city to enforce its laws, and a number of us have spoken out at five meetings of the Planning & Development Committee and in numerous sessions with city officials and aldermen since last summer.  Instead, the City has decided to undertake the task of amending the Code to prohibit the leasing of a dwelling unit for fewer than 30 days. While we appreciate the time and effort of the Aldermen and City staff, it is imperative that until the City enacts new legislation, that it enforces its existing laws that were designed to encourage stable neighborhoods and ensure public safety.

    Kim Novi, Maureen O’Donnell, Greg Richards, Jenny Ellis Richards, and Mark Rosati

  4. The value of neighbors

    Each time the topic of short-term rentals come up, I find myself getting very upset.  I feel that the proliferation of these arrangements in areas with mainly single family homes will erode the sense of neighborhood, of knowing one's neighbors, that people traditionally expected when purchasing a home. I think that intangible ("neighbors") probably adds to the value of a home in a financial sense as well as quality of life. 

    But I see the prospect of short-term rentals as WORSE for the condo owner because the stream of transient strangers passing through would be INSIDE THE BUILDING where my family lives.  How jarring would it be to walk out your front door into common areas such as the the hallway or in the laundry room, patio, etc.  and run into different strangers all the time who were short-term renters.  I  think this would make my condo building feel like a motel, and I never would have willingly raised my children in a motel where they would be faced with a stream of strangers passing through rather than an actual neighbor.  Even when a condo building has rental units, the renters are not there for only a few days before being placed with someone else.  Please understand that in many condo buildings there is a sense of neighborhood,of knowing and having relationships with the other condo residents.  Please don't take that away from us so that some people can make a quick buck.

     I would never knowingly buy a condo if I knew I was actually buying an apartment in a motel. 

    1. Condo Owners Have More Control over Rental Situations

      I don't have a dog in the hunt in this argument, but did want to point out that any group of condo owners who are against rentals has much more control than people who live in single family homes.  You have a board and you and your condo neighbors are able to work with them to create restrictive bylaws limiting the numbers and types of rental situations in your building.  Many condo associations have implemented just such bylaws in order to keep their properties free from renters.  It is unfortunate that renters are looked down upon due to a handful who seem to care less about being good neighbors and exhibit a lack of respect for their fellow wo/man…. but then again, there are a handful of homeowners who exhibit similar traits.

      In reading the article on this topic I cry for the human condition that would cause someone to shut their blinds on one entire side of their home for fear that someone may be looking at them or be suspicious of someone taking photographs of children in Halloween regalia during a sidewalk parade.  In virtually every comment the  "assumption" overshadows and gives birth to all of the stated fears.  As a society, we have created situations where anonymity abounds and we enjoy that anonymity every time we whip someone the bird from our comfy car or flame someone in an internet posting.  Our paranoia factor is definitely on the uptick when we see bad in the most innocent of actions.  

      If you spend your time looking for evil, you will surely find it.

  5. This is not a localized issue

    Come on, we're all educated. This is not about the landlords that are the focus of this discussion. This is not a localized issue on Ashland Av. This issue, if not controlled, could crop up anywhere; next to any of our houses, next to the NU president's house or next to our alderman's or mayor's house. I have been told that there are 12 houses in Evanston with this same issue. So, it's multiplying and if not firmly controlled, it  will multiply further.  

    Go to any township that does not control it and you will see the consequences. Overabundance of cars in the driveways and even on the grass. More cars on the street. Loud events. Personnel who do not know or respect the neighhood they are in. Personnel who don't know the neighbors and aren't concerned of the consequences.

    Granted,  there are those landlords who are very respectful of their neighbors. They are very well organized and make sure the neighbors are not being impacted. However, there is no way to control landlords that do not control this. Yes, you could license the houses with conditions. However,  who manages what really goes on if we have a licensing program. The city won't unless they are called. So,THE NEIGHBORS become the fall back to managing it. If there are noise complaints, the neighbors will voice a complaint with  the city. If there is a parking problem, the neighbors will again, call the city. If there is a trespassing problem, ditto. Strangers in the neighborhood – in the alleys, ditto again.

    And, to keep it in focus, this is not just an issue of not knowing if the person next door belongs there or who the person is and what kind of perosn he/she is, it's all of the items mentioned above. 

    I  do not feel that neighbors in an R1 district should have to deal with issues found in districts with licensed homes. Living next to a licensed rental house is not what I signed up for.

    In the end, the only thing good that comes out of a licensing program is that the city makes some money on the fee. The city wins, the licensed house wins and the neighbors lose. That's it. If the city decides to license these houses, all the things that could happen negatively with rental unit do eventually happen. It is the way it is. I thought this is why there are speciflc zones already established to deal with these issues?

  6. Ridiculous

    This debate is ridiculous. The comments made from the neighbors complaining are clearly localized neighbor issues and dont represent well at all the airbnb industry or the whole vacation rental. First of all, most people using Air bnb do so because of the lack of options for hotels in Evanston and the need to stay a little longer. We are in a college town and I am sure a lot of parents visit their kids that way.
    Second of all, regulating/banning the vacation rental in the city  could have terrible consequences over our real estate. Why have we seen a great increase in such pratices: because people get stuck with properties they cannot sell, because the real estate market is not what it used to be and they need flexibility.
    If i own a single family home I sure expect I can do whatever I please in it as long as there is no obvious disrespect of the neighbors. Renting a house for vacation use should be no worse than renting a house to a group of rommates. 4 bedroom, 4 cars.  Except there are only upsides: 1/ the owner lives there to check on the renter , 2/ it is only part of the time 3/ there is no risk of big parties given they are only there for a few days, 4/ they choose who they invite in their home and will share the space with.
    I believe the only regulation  if there needs to be one should be for non owner occupied vacation rentals, which should classify under the same rules as other rentals.
    Finally, let's all remember that regulation in use in real estate is not ALWAYS a good idea even with the best intention. In our condo building 3 units went on foreclosure after a the new bylaws passed regulated how many rentals could be int he building. That regulation was supposedly to make it easier for banks to approve mortgages and therefore help people sell their unit in a tough time. The result were not as expected…
     

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