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 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.
“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.
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.