Joliet not ready to regulate Airbnbs

Proposed Airbnb regulations caught up in single-family rental debate

It’s back to the drawing board for Joliet regulations on short-term vacation rentals.

City officials in January postponed a decision on a couple’s plan to use a newly purchased building for short-term lodging, such as through Airbnb, saying the city should first develop rules for the business segment.

The rules were proposed last week and got caught up in the city’s more than decade-long debate on whether to regulate single-family rental property in Joliet.

Cheryl and John O’Lear, meanwhile, now are going on a year of owning a house last used as an insurance office along the Plainfield Road commercial strip without being able to rent it through Airbnb, a website that lists residences or rooms for vacation stays, even though they were initially told by city officials that it should be OK.

“We’re just disappointed that it’s taking this long,” Cheryl O’Lear said Monday. “It’s in a nonresidential area, so you’d think it would be treated differently.”

Neighborhood advocates have pointed to the rentals popping up in about 40 spots around the city, including one run out of a trailer, and are calling for the city to develop stricter rules over the conversion of residential properties into short-term rentals for out-of-town visitors.

The rental units that have opened up have done so without being brought to the city for zoning approval. After the O’Lears went to City Hall to make sure their property could be rented through Airbnb before buying it, planning staff decided a special use permit was needed because the city had no zoning that covered the use.

“I get so many phone calls and emails on it,” council member Jan Quillman said at the Thursday meeting of the City Council Land Use and Legislative Committee.

Quillman said people are concerned about people moving in and out of houses in their neighborhoods without knowing who they are.

She also questioned staff’s plan to include vacation rental services in its regulations for single-family rentals.

“An Airbnb is a business in a residential area,” she said. “I think that should be a whole separate ordinance.”

Staff had proposed adding vacation rental units into a proposed single-family rental inspection program that the committee discussed at length before tabling a vote for two months. Single-family rental regulations face strong opposition from landlords, and the city has looked at the issue off and on since at least 2009 without taking action.

Airbnb operator James Luka said the city should recognize that business people and visitors to the city use the short-term stays because of the type of lodging offered and tend to spend money in Joliet while staying there.

“It’s a need that has not been filled otherwise,” Luka said. “We’re a value to the community rather than a detriment.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News