After one resident called the idea “going after a bug with a bazooka,” Evanston aldermen Monday rejected an ordinance that would have banned vacation rentals.

Instead the aldermen voted to hold a Saturday morning workshop session sometime soon to try to reach agreement on how — if at all — to regulate short-term property rentals in the city.

Jeff Smith, an attorney who represented one homeowner in a suit against an earlier city effort to block her from renting her home to short-term guests, came up with the bazooka line.

He said perhaps two dozen properties in Evanston are for rent on a short-term basis at any one time, and perhaps 200 home owners rent out their properties for short periods over the course of a year.

Despite that, he said, only a couple of properties have led to objections from neighbors.

Currently, Smith said, all 18,000 homeowners in town have the right to rent out their property, and most of them “have no idea the council is considering this ban.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she’d like to see vacation rentals licensed, to assure that, as with bed and breakfast operations, they meet health and safety standards.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, suggested the licensing should be part of a comprehensive scheme to license all landlords in the city.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the vacation rental issue shouldn’t be confused with the broader landlord licensing concept. Landlord licensing has drawn fierce opposition from groups representing rental property owners.

And Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she was concerned about the difficulty of enforcing a licensing rule.

She added that she wouldn’t want to exempt owner-occupied properties from a regulatory scheme. “They can be a problem, too,” Wynne said. But Fiske said buildings where the owner is present are less likely to be the source of disruptive events, “because owners will be responsive to neighbors.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the city’s legal staff misunderstood what aldermen wanted when it came up with the ban ordinance.

He said “a spectrum of circumstances” should be considered, and an outright ban wouldn’t work.

Wilson suggested that residents with their own ideas about what should be done on the issue could email them to the city’s law department, at

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Response to Alderman Judy Fiske comment about licensing VRs

    Who better to assure health and safety issues are being met but the upper echelon patrons who rent VR's? Why pay for another government bureacracy when this is something the market can take care of, free of charge? VR's are generally in impecable condition to attract guests. If they are run down, or dirty, people will not patronize. Besides, it opens doors for bureacracy to inspect owner occupied homes "in order to protect us from our own living conditions" without a warrant. Who wants that? Before licensing is required, I would respectfully ask Judy and others to produce reliable health and safety statistics of Vr's vs. owner occupieds vs. long-term home rentals vs. vacant or abandoned homes with regard to illnesses gotten or injuries received. I'm guessing Judys' argument won't even hold water to discriminate against VR's for health and safety issues. In our modern mobile society, short-term furnished rentals are now a necessity in every community across the nation. Mobile families require short-term stays for a number of reasons, not just vacations. It is our modern way of life.

  2. Short-term rentals

    Allowing houses in residential neighborhoods to be turned into transient hotels affects community safety, security, property values and quality of life.

    Lawyers have told me that existing ordinances in Evanston prohibit this kind of activity in areas zoned R-1, and also ban overnight commercial activity in a residence. Yet private homes are being rented out for overnight stays, football weekends, etc.

    The concept of a stable residential block or neighborhood is lost. If someone were to buy a house in a residential neighborhood in Evanston and start a car-washing business in the alley, presumably the city would step in and prohibit this.

    Yet it is allowing transient hotels to proliferate, in at least one case in very close proximity to elementary and middle schools.

    Every homeowner in Evanston needs to understand that this is a growing problem, and it could happen on their block – indeed, next door to them – tomorrow.

    All it takes is a home foreclosure and a buyer swooping in with intent to turn what had been a single-family or two-family residence into a rooming house. The city needs to take action, and quickly.

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