After Chaotic Debate, Chicago Aldermen Approve Regulations On Uber, Airbnb

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After Chaotic Debate, Chicago Aldermen Approve Regulations On Uber, Airbnb

After a heated, chaotic day at City Hall Wednesday, aldermen approved regulations on popular sharing services like Airbnb and Uber, but for some aldermen, the new rules don’t go far enough. WBEZ’s Lauren Chooljian joined Tony Sarabia on the Morning Shift for a recap of the City Council meeting.

By far the most contentious moments came before the council vote over regulations on Uber and Lyft drivers. Aldermen have battled for months among themselves, the mayor’s office and industry leaders over how best to keep consumers safe, level the playing field between ride-sharing and the cab industry, as well as encourage a growing industry.

Aldermen like Scott Waguespack (32) complained that the latest version of the ordinance was shared with council members early Wednesday morning, which only gave them a few hours to vet the ordinance before voting on it at the full council meeting. The last-minute maneuvering, Waguespack said, “is not the way to run the city council” so he attempted a parliamentary move that would delay a vote on the ordinance until the July meeting.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel had his own parliamentary move up his sleeve. He gave the floor to Ald. Ed Burke (14) who made a motion to call the next City Council meeting Friday, depriving Waguespack and others of the month they thought they’d get with their delay.

The mayor then moved to adjourn the meeting until Friday, causing an uproar on the council floor. Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38) was heard yelling, “This is embarrassing.” Realizing what had just occurred, Waguespack decided to take his motion back, allowing the meeting could continue. 

A heated debate followed the chaos. Many aldermen joined Waguespack in their criticism of the last-minute negotiating that left some members clueless about what they were voting on.

"Quite frankly, it’s hard for us to stomach, as council members, getting something minutes or hours ahead of time and being pressed to vote on it. Even if it’s something that we fundamentally agree with,” Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) said.

But allies of the mayor countered that the City Council had been working on this ordinance for months, and their colleagues should trust that the sponsor, Ald. Anthony A. Beale (9), had put in long hours for a good compromise.

In the end, the latest version passed 36-12, creating a license for Uber and Lyft drivers that would not require fingerprinting, which is a requirement for taxi drivers. The ordinance instead calls for a study to assess the validity of fingerprinting over the next six months, which was a change from the original measure a committee of aldermen approved last week. It also allows both companies to come up with a plan to make their vehicles more handicap accessible.

Debate was much less fiery over Airbnb regulations, though some aldermen still feel the council didn’t go far enough in their restrictions of who can temporarily rent out their home online.

Ald. Michelle Smith (43) has long argued that Airbnb gives developers a way to turn residential buildings into hotels, causing quality of life concerns for her Lincoln Park constituents.

“This is not about individuals who want to go away from their homes for a couple weeks at a time or trying to make a living. It’s about the newest scheme for real estate investors,” Smith said on the council floor Wednesday.

But in the end, the aldermen approved the regulations 43-7, creating a complex set of rules for potential Airbnb users to navigate if they want to rent out their place.

For example, residents of multi-unit buildings between 2-4 flats are only allowed 1 Airbnb user per building. That means if a basement unit rents out their place, no one else in the building is allowed to list their home on Airbnb.

There would also be a limit on the number of Airbnbs allowed in larger buildings, but condo associations could request that their entire building be off limits to Airbnb. Residents of low-density areas with mostly single family homes can attempt to petition their neighbors to keep Airbnb out of their area.

Airbnb will have to pay the city a $10,000 annual licensing fee, plus a $60 per-unit fee that the mayor’s office says will be used for enforcement. The city will also tax Airbnb 4 percent which will be used to help the homeless. The ordinance requires Airbnb send bi-weekly reports to the city to let aldermen know who in their ward is renting out their homes.

Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.