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Cook County adopts vacation rental ordinance

Vacation rentals are common on the North Shore. Photo by Joe Friedrichs
Vacation rentals are common on the North Shore. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

Cook County  is now officially involved with the regulation and oversight of vacation rentals through a specific ordinance. During a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners today (May 28) the board voted 5-0 to adopt a vacation rental ordinance.

This follows a 4-2 vote by the members of the Cook County Planning Commission on May 8 to approve the ordinance. In essence, the ordinance will provide oversight on how many short-term rentals are operating in Cook County, if they are paying required fees to legally operate and a set of guidelines to monitor how the rental properties operate under county rules and regulations.

Land Services Director Tim Nelson said the ordinance is a culmination of many years of discussion and effort regarding vacation rentals in the county.

The ordinance will officially go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. A key element of the ordinance is an annual registration fee paid to the county in order to legally operate a vacation rental. The fee, of which the exact cost is not included in the language of the ordinance, applies to each individual short-term rental in Cook County. The fee per unit is likely to not exceed $200, Nelson said. Once enacted, the ordinance will be in place for three years. At that time, the ordinance will be reviewed and the county will consider extending it or taking another course of action with regard to oversight of short-term rentals.

Local business owner Steve Surbaugh spoke during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting. Surbaugh shared his concerns about the vacation rental ordinance the county is considering adopting. According to Surbaugh, the ordinance does nothing from an enforcement standpoint with regard to oversight of short-term rentals in Cook County.

Also speaking Tuesday was Mike Larson, the co-owner of Cascade Vacation Rentals. Surbaugh and Larson are the co-owners of Cascade Vacation Rentals, a business that manages and markets short-term rentals in Cook County and along the North Shore. Larson said the county will spend an excessive amount of resources implementing the vacation rental ordinance, including funds spent outside of the county. In addition, Larson believes there is a negative perception in the public eye surrounding short-term rentals on the North Shore. Larson said growth is not explosive in the vacation-rental industry in Cook County and it is not out of control, as was suggested in some media outlets throughout the state.

Nelson said it is understandable that there is concern among those who are in the business of managing short-term rentals regarding this ordinance.

“Going from having no regulations to having any regulations is a big step,” Nelson said.

With regard to why the county might benefit from having a short-term rental ordinance, Nelson said accumulating data is a key aspect. This data includes the total number of vacation rentals in the county and if all are properly following both state and local regulations that range from taxes to septic system requirements.  

And while he acknowledged that some of the oversight will be done outside of the county, Nelson said the number of hours required by county staff to oversee this ordinance would be approximately five hours per week.

Before taking a vote on the ordinance, Commissioner Bobby Deschampe said he feels the vacation-rental ordinance is “a good first step” toward oversight of this industry in the county.

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk said she feels the ordinance is a good way to put an end to fears and anxiety regarding the number of short-term rentals.

“This can put an end to the perception problem,” Doo-Kirk said.

Commissioner Myron Bursheim said he recognizes that the ordinance places a burden on some of the short-term rental properties in Cook County. That being the case, Bursheim said the ordinance took time to put together and is a good plan for the county. 

Commissioner Dave Mills said he recognizes the importance of vacation rentals in the county, including their economic impact. At the same time, Mills said he sees the ordinance as a good move toward oversight of this industry.