By Tina Richards
The Villa Park City Council affirmed its commitment to ban short-term rentals (STRs), July 25, following a closed-door session, wherein city attorney Todd Litfin advised members that, if passed, the ordinance might evoke lawsuits.
The council had approved the ordinance banning short-term rentals -- anything less than 30 consecutive days -- with a three-two vote during its June meeting. As is customary, the ordinance reappeared on the July council meeting agenda for a “second reading.” Before the hearing began, Litfin told the council that the city had received correspondence suggesting that the STR ban might expose it to litigation. He recommended that the council adjourn to a closed session to enable discussion of the possible exposure.
After 20 minutes behind closed doors, the council emerged with no change of heart on the viability of the ordinance. Last month’s three "yes" votes, Mayor Bob Collacott, Vince Rossini and Robbie Pitts, remained in favor; the "nos," Diana Fascenelli and Bill Nelson, stood fast in opposition.
Out of character
Several residents expressed their support of the ordinance, with one noting that STRs were “counter to what the city represents.” That is, a community of single-family homes that is safe, friendly and a good place to raise kids. One speaker said that he lives across the street from a rental property, admitted that there were no problems, but that it “changed the character of the street.”
Another resident reported that she is an Airbnb home, that she lives in the property, screens tenants, rents to a maximum six people at one time, and regulates on-site activities. She suggested the council consider compromises rather than an all-out ban.
Fascenelli reiterated her concern that the city was “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“We received one complaint that wasn’t really a complaint,” she said. “We’re looking up property records to see who owns what. We’re looking for trouble and that’s not who we are.” She suggested that the city grandfather in homeowners who already had STRs to allow them to continue – at least for a while.
Out of bounds
Robbie Pitts disagreed, noting that he had done a lot of research on the topic and that STRs create noise and nuisances. “These are businesses,” he said. “They don’t belong on residential streets.”
Vince Rossini added that other cities consider STRs to be a blight, that they “inject something into a residential community that shouldn’t be there. Does it affect homeowners who surround the property?” he asked, “Yes.”
Bill Nelson noted that no survey had been done on the subject in Villa Park, and “we don’t know what people think. We only know what a few people think.” He expressed reluctance to open up the city to litigation, suspecting that “some of the STR homes won’t back down.” He also restated his desire not to infringe on property rights.
“What’s the difference between an STR and a Motel 6?” Mayor Collacott asked. “We already regulate commercial and residential property in Villa Park. We don’t allow massage parlors, we’ve turned down in-home day care centers. STRs are a recent phenomena. Now’s a good time to say we don’t accept it.”
Out of time
Collacott did suggest that the effective date of the ordinance be delayed up to six months, because some rental homes may already have bookings. When told by City Manager Steve Franks that changing the language of the ordinance (i.e., effective date), would require it to come back to the council again next month, Collacott withdrew his suggestion.
Once approved, the ordinance takes effect in 30 days. “So what do we do then?” Fascenelli asked. “What’s the next step, how do we enforce it?”
Franks reported that letters would be sent to known short-term rental owners, and probably anyone who owns a second dwelling. Enforcement, based on a complaint basis, would be primarily administrative at first, with the possibility of fines for continued noncompliance.
“We don’t even know how many STRs exist in the city,” Fascenelli said. “Not everyone will be aware that what they’re doing is now illegal.”
“Ignorance of the law is no defense,” Litfin offered.
The ordinace was affirmed by the same three-to-two vote.
Villa Park affirms ban on short-term rentals