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Violent NYE Party At House Rented Through Airbnb Lands Owner In Court

By Howard Ludwig | February 15, 2017 7:52am | Updated on February 15, 2017 12:33pm
 The owner of a Morgan Park home that was rented online through Airbnb for a New Year's Eve party where gunshots rang out is being taken to building court, according to 19th Ward Ald. Matt O'Shea.
The owner of a Morgan Park home that was rented online through Airbnb for a New Year's Eve party where gunshots rang out is being taken to building court, according to 19th Ward Ald. Matt O'Shea.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

MORGAN PARK — The owner of a Morgan Park home that was rented online for a New Year's Eve party where gunshots rang out is being taken to building court, according to 19th Ward Ald. Matt O'Shea.

O'Shea sent an email to constituents Tuesday updating them about the steps he's taken since the shooting and offering his help to those interested in restricting such rentals in their neighborhoods.

"If people are concerned about this on their block or on their corner, I am here to help," said O'Shea, adding that he also realizes that not all Airbnb rentals end in shootings and that such rentals promote tourism citywide.

Nevertheless, three people were shot early Jan. 1 as a result of a party at 11227 S. Longwood Drive. The first shooting was at 3:46 a.m., according to the Chicago Police Department.

In that incident, a 19-year-old man was found shot in his back outside the home and taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center. The man's condition wasn't released, but he was listed as "stable," police said.

Two more men were found with gunshot wounds at Monterrey and Vincennes avenues — near Morgan Park High School, according to police.

A 21-year-old man was shot in his throat and taken to Christ hospital in critical condition. A 20-year-old man was shot in his left shoulder and taken to the same hospital. The 20-year-old's condition wasn't released, but he was listed as "stable," police said.

The two men told officers they had been at the party on Longwood Drive when they were shot, police said. O'Shea said that no arrests have been made related to the incident.

Bonnie Ehlers of Beverly owns the Morgan Park home where the party took place, according to Cook County records. Attempts to reach Ehlers and her attorney were unsuccessful, and no one was at the house on Tuesday afternoon.

After the shooting, O'Shea requested a special task force aimed at addressing problem buildings take a look at the residence. A lawsuit has been filed in Cook County Circuit Court based on these findings, O'Shea said.

Margot Burke Holland, executive director of the Beverly Area Planning Association, said, "I think what is important is to realize that some people are going to use Airbnb in the intended fashion and some people are not."

Holland co-signed the email with O'Shea. Their message said residents in individual precincts around the city can restrict Airbnb and other online rental companies. The process is arduous, but O'Shea offered to walk residents through it.

"This concerns me. And what happened that day, it got my attention. And in my job, I can't sit on the sidelines," said O'Shea, reiterating that he's not encouraging anyone to restrict online rentals but merely offering to help to those who want to.

O'Shea's office fielded 28 requests for more information about restricting online rental services just three hours after the email was sent, according to a staff member.

Holland said the party has certainly sparked concern and questioned the viability of Airbnb and other such rental services in the 19th Ward. She said such companies often work best in tourist areas — not bedroom communities.

"We are in a unique position where if we do want to take action, we can," she said.

O'Shea also reached out to Airbnb directly, asking that the Morgan Park home that hosted the party be removed from the company's list of available properties, according to a letter obtained by DNAinfo.

The letter, dated Jan. 27, also asks that Airbnb remove any other properties owned by Ehlers from its online listings.

Ben Breit, a spokesman for Airbnb, said Wednesday that the listing has been removed from its website, and the guest responsible for the party has been banned. The company is also working with police to assist them in their investigation, he said.

"There have been over 150 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings and negative incidents are extremely rare. But even one incident such as this one is one too many," Breit said. "Our hearts are with the victims of this senseless and unacceptable violence."

Breit added that Airbnb runs both host and guest information through several public databases to check if there are matches with certain felony convictions, sex offender registrations or significant misdemeanors.

The idea is to "to help prevent potentially troublesome hosts or guests from utilizing the platform in the first place," Breit said.

Michelle Sarich lives one house away from where the shooting occurred and was home on New Year's Eve with her family that includes seven children. She and her husband were working on a puzzle during the peak hours of the party.

After the shooting, several of her children awoke to the commotion and flashing blue lights. No one in the Sarich family was hurt, but the kids haven't forgotten the incident. In fact, she believes a few of them are now under the false impression that shootings are commonplace at all large parties, she said.

"Just all hell broke loose at the front of the house," said Sarich, adding that before the shooting the party seemed under control.

The Sarich family also rents out a room in their home to students and travelers via Airbnb. Before the shooting, there were never problems at the house where the party took place, Sarich said. The house was scheduled to host visiting students just a few days after the shooting, she said.

The online rentals have introduced her family to wonderful people with a wealth of experiences, Sarich said. She's hosted about 150 people over the last year and received cookies from foreign countries and exotic gifts from those staying in her home.

"I believe that the whole purpose of Airbnb is more of a community," said Sarich, adding that those who use the website to simply make money are missing out on the intended experience for hosts.

Aside from one strange visitor, Sarich said her guests have been delightful. She also said guidelines exist within Airbnb to prevent large parties and other problems, but such safeguards clearly were not in place before the party on her block.

Sarich said restricting Airbnb and other online rental companies based on one incident is shortsighted. Backpacking through Europe introduced her to the idea of opening her home to guests, and she has no regrets thus far, she said.

"The whole Airbnb thing is so common in Europe and Asia," Sarich said. "It's only in our American minds that we associate hotels with quality."