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Months late, city to start issuing long-awaited Airbnb host registrations

After months of silence, the city is ready to start enforcing some of its new short-term rental rules.

The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection plans to roll out long-awaited registration numbers to Airbnb hosts Friday, said Rosa Escareno, the department's commissioner. Chicago's controversial ordinance requires hosts to have registration numbers for units listed on short-term rental platforms.

Hosts will receive their registration numbers via email, Escareno said. The department expects to start contacting hosts with denied registrations next week, she said. Once hosts receive notification of denied registrations, they will have 20 days to file an appeal.

Escareno said hosts should not panic if they don't hear from the city about their registration numbers immediately. Those hosts can continue booking stays without fear of fines.

"We have their information," she said. "We're working through the process; we will get to everyone eventually."

The city couldn't provide figures Friday on how many registrations were approved or denied.

It's been almost five months since the city's short-term rental ordinance took full effect. The ordinance, passed last summer, imposes stricter rules on Airbnb and other short-term rental sites. It requires each unit listed to have a registration number, but most Chicago listings have been stamped with "city registration pending."

Before the city could start registering units, it had to license Airbnb, Escareno said. That occurred in June, and since then the city has been processing the data Airbnb shared. The city contracted with a company to help build its registration platform.

Airbnb allowed hosts to comply with the new rules through its website. If hosts didn't comply by May 1, their listings were dropped from the site. Before the deadline, there were about 6,500 active hosts in Chicago.

While Airbnb hosts in Chicago awaited word on their units' registration numbers, concern over the silence from the city built. Some hosts complained of being stuck in limbo and wondered if they would risk fines if they continued booking stays.

The penalty for operating without a registration number can range from $1,500 to $3,000 per day.

In addition to the pending denials and approvals, there are applications with incomplete addresses. The city will notify those hosts of the incomplete data. Escareno said she hopes to get those applications cleaned up within a month.

"At some point, we're just going to say, 'You're kicked off,'" she said.

The ordinance requires Airbnb — currently the only short-term rental platform licensed in Chicago — to send the city updated data on first and 15th of each month. New hosts will be registered through that process.

Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit said the company has "been working closely with the city to develop Chicago's first-of-its-kind registration system."

"We are proud to be the only short-term rental platform legally licensed in the city," Breit said.

The city is working with other companies to ensure that hosts on their platforms can get registered. One of those is HomeAway, an Austin, Texas-based short-term rental platform that was bought by Expedia in 2015.

HomeAway filed a federal lawsuit against the city in May, alleging that the "deeply flawed law" threatens fines that are based on categories "that cannot meaningfully be distinguished from one another." The pending suit asks the court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional.

Escareno has sent letters of noncompliance to the platforms that have not come forward to get licenses.

"Those will be my priority for enforcement," she said. "It's obvious that the companies are not really being mindful and not coming forward to at least begin the process."

Hosts with units listed on those platforms could also face fines, she said.

Enforcement hinges on correct data, Escareno said. Once short-term rental hosts receive their units' registration numbers, they should add it to their Airbnb listings as soon as possible.

"The goal is to try to get everybody operating correctly, and then we can take a look at what activity is happening," she said. "We will ... use the ordinance to ensure we are addressing bad behavior."

amarotti@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @AllyMarotti

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