Daily Herald opinion: It makes sense for communities to regulate short-term rentals

In concept, short-term home rentals seem a charming, economical way for vacationers to get away and experience another community while residents of that community who are away from a home for a bit can make a few extra bucks without letting their house sit vacant.

In practice, the system has not always worked out to be so idyllic. In some cases, whole businesses have been set up to acquire neighborhood houses and turn them, essentially, into single-unit motels. In extreme situations, they've become crime scenes, sometimes as serious as murder. But just as a matter of routine, neighbors often complain about problems with crowding, traffic, parking, rude guests, rowdy parties and more, hardly the sweet family outings depicted in so many social media and television commercials for operations like Airbnb and Vrbo.

As a result, suburban communities are moving more and more to exercise some control to protect the flavor and comfort of their neighborhoods. Last week, the Des Plaines City Council took a step toward joining them, and their reasoning is easy to understand.

Said Third Ward Alderman Sean Oskerka: "I don't want to live in the middle of a hotel district."

Who does?

Des Plaines broached the idea of regulating short-term rentals six years ago, but never went far enough to establish a policy. Now, bolstered by growing complaints from residents, aldermen want to revisit a proposal that would require a $100-a-year license for short-term rentals and limit the use of a residence for short-term rental to 10 days a year.

There may be room to quibble over the amount of the fee or the number of available rental days, but the reasoning is sound. A fee provides more city control over the practice, and limiting the number of available dates for a rental keeps it in line with the basic philosophy of the concept.

Saying she happens "to believe in property rights," Fifth Ward Alderman Carla Brookstone expressed concerns about such regulation, but to be clear, property rights are not the issue here.

In the first place, the people living in residential neighborhoods have property and privacy rights, too, that these situations often violate. And beyond that, towns have all sorts of zoning and planning regulations that define what property owners can do with a particular site. It is surely a stretch, at least, to suggest that routine rentals to outsiders must be allowed unfettered on property that is zoned for residences.

That's not to say the practice should never be permitted, as Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten proposed. If it's limited and controlled, a short-term rental can offer a reasonable value for travelers and homeowners without disturbing the comfort and calm of a neighborhood.

But if it's not, we see all too often the disruptions that can follow. It only makes sense for Des Plaines, or any community, to try to head them off.

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