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City's Push To Rein In Airbnb 'Ill-advised' And Illegal, Lawsuit Says

By Ted Cox | November 15, 2016 12:40pm
 Attorney Jacob Huebert, of the Liberty Justice Center, called the city's home-sharing ordinance
Attorney Jacob Huebert, of the Liberty Justice Center, called the city's home-sharing ordinance "incomprehensible."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — Two law agencies specializing in limiting government filed suit Tuesday against Chicago's new home-sharing ordinance.

Attorney Jacob Huebert of the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center called the city ordinance "incomprehensible" and said it violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and in favor of the right to privacy and equal protection under the law.

According to Huebert, Airbnb has 4,800 hosts in Chicago making an average of $5,300 a year renting out their places. The new city ordinance, which takes effect before the end of the year, threatens to curtail them, he said.

He also cited the surge in Airbnb rentals enjoyed locally during the Cubs' World Series games at Wrigley Field.

"If the Chicago City Council won't reconsider and repeal this ill-advised, unconstitutional ordinance, then the Cook County Circuit Court should strike it down," Huebert said.

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute joined in the suit, calling the city law "Draconian."

"These regulations aren't just detrimental to homeowners, travelers and communities, they're also illegal under the U.S. and Illinois constitutions, which require government to treat people equally under the law," said Christina Sandefur, executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute. "This rule discriminates against home sharers, and imposes vague and undefined rules on them — all of which gives bureaucrats power to enforce the law subjectively."

A federal suit was filed earlier this month by the local group Keep Chicago Livable. Huebert said he filed in local county court because his suit charges violations of the Illinois constitution as well as the U.S. Constitution.

The new home-sharing law passed the City Council and was signed into law by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in June. It allowed for searches of home-sharing properties and called for hosts to keep records on renters, which Huebert said constituted unreasonable searches and violated the right to privacy.

The ordinance also set limits on the number of home-sharing units in a building: one in a single-family home or anything up through a four-flat, one-quarter of the units up to a maximum of six in larger condominiums and apartment buildings. But it also allowed for appeals on those limits through the Office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which Huebert said violated equal protection under the law.

Huebert said the regulations "make no sense," adding, "They appear to be designed to protect the hotel industry from competition."

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), however, had argued that even those limits were insufficient to rein in profiteering home-sharing renters, charging that her Lincoln Park neighborhood was being sold off to people seeking to use houses as rental properties.

The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to keep the new law from taking effect.

Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the city intends to "vigorously defend" the ordinance, "as we believe the plaintiffs’ legal arguments lack merit."

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