'Party house' leads Naperville to ban short-term rentals -- for now
Loud music, large crowds and late-night chaos coming from a house on Santa Maria Drive in Naperville have prompted repeated complaints from nearby residents concerned about the safety and tranquility of their neighborhood.
The vacant house has been used for several months as a "poorly operated" short-term rental unit, Mayor Steve Chirico said, frequently leased out for parties and events described as disruptive and occasionally volatile.
Grappling over how to halt the noise, nuisance and traffic issues at what neighbors call the "party house," the city council decided last week to ban short-term residential rentals through Airbnb, VRBO or similar platforms -- at least until strict and enforceable regulations can be adopted.
Council members said they would revisit the topic in six months, though Chirico hopes the issue will be reconsidered much sooner.
Short-term rentals, where guests can stay for less than 30 days, provide supplemental income for potentially hundreds of Naperville property owners, a majority of whom have operated without complaint for years, he said.
"I think we still need to make a comprehensive ordinance that will include everybody and prevent it from slipping through the cracks for another unit to be abused the way this one was," Chirico said. "It's just not acceptable."
On Thursday, Airbnb announced plans to crack down on unauthorized gatherings, particularly those that elicit "bar and club behavior" or neighborhood nuisance. The "party ban," issued amid the COVID-19 crisis, institutes an occupancy cap of 16 people and prohibits all events at its listings worldwide.
Similar policies that apply across platforms could be incorporated into a future Naperville ordinance, Chirico said.
Problems at short-term rentals have raised concerns across the suburbs, prompting some towns to take action.
In Roselle, the village is seeking home-rule status to better regulate short-term rentals in the wake of a June 27 shooting that killed one person and injured four. Sixty shots were fired at a house that had been rented for a party after being advertised on Airbnb and VRBO, police said.
Short-term rentals were already prohibited in Barrington Hills when a man was shot and killed during a March house party, officials said. Four years earlier, Lake Barrington officials imposed a similar ban after a nearby shooting involving guests who were leaving a party at a short-term rental property.
Naperville has had a few isolated disturbances at short-term rentals in recent years, Chirico said, but none as persistent as those on Santa Maria Drive. Run by a third-party operator, the property acted as more of a commercial business than its zoned residential use, he said.
The issue was brought to the city's attention this year after a large Super Bowl party. Since then, neighbors have been living in fear when a gathering forms, according to comments submitted by Angie Hunter, who lives across the street.
"This party house has been negatively impacting the quality of life of our family and of our neighbors," she said. "We have not had a sound sleep, as we are always on alert. We do not know who is there, and no one is responsible for what is happening during these parties. We are worried for our safety."
Chirico said he believes the unfavorable activity could have been curtailed through a draft ordinance restricting short-term rentals, rather than banning them. Proposed regulations included requiring unit owners to register online with the city, limiting occupancy to 10 people, and prohibiting third-party operators, among other rules related to parking, noise levels and respect for the neighborhood.
Some residents feared the restrictions wouldn't effectively solve the problem, which council members agreed deserved immediate action.
"We have to stop the insanity that's going on for those poor people," Councilwoman Patty Gustin said.
The short-term rental ban begins Sept. 1, though unit owners with existing contracts have a 60-day exemption that began Tuesday. The ordinance includes progressive fines for violations: $1,000 for a first citation and $2,500 for subsequent offenses.
The Santa Maria Drive house operator has been communicative with the city and will cease rentals at the end of August, officials said.
Naperville typically has 35 to 40 properties on Airbnb alone, meaning there could be hundreds of rentals across platforms, Chirico said. He hopes to revisit the issue within two months to ensure responsible operators are disrupted as little as possible.
"I think the ordinance being proposed did have enough teeth in it, and it was going to solve the problem," he said. "I would have voted for it, and I will vote for it when it comes back. I guess sometimes these things just have to soak."