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Chicago automates registration of Airbnb hosts

In February, Chicago passed rules that require people renting their homes or apartments on sites like Airbnb to register with the city.

To enforce its ordinance on short-term residential rentals, the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection is rolling out an online registration system that compares rental listings from Airbnb with city databases to identify properties ineligible for short-term rentals and subject to fines.  

“If we had to do this manually it would be a very burdensome task,” BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno told GCN.

“This is a first-of-its-kind system meant to create a secure way for the city to automate the generation of registrations,” said Danielle DuMerer, the city’s CIO and commissioner of the Department of Innovation and Technology.

It all starts with Airbnb sending its data to the city, which the firm is required to do twice a month.

The city’s registration system then compares the address provided by Airbnb against other databases that contain addresses that wouldn’t be approved because they’re in buildings that are ineligible to participate in short-term rentals or are in areas not zoned for short-term rentals. It also flags “problem landlords” and other issues that would prevent residents from being a host.

The system can grant approvals on its own, DuMerer said, and it creates a list of pending denials that is double-checked by a city employee for quality control. Hosts who are sent a pending denial have the chance to appeal the decision.

When Airbnb was originally approved it provided the city with a large data dump, and it now provides updates using its application programming interfaces.

Currently the registration system only incorporates data from Airbnb hosts; listings from other home-sharing sites are not included, according to a report in Crain's Chicago Business.

The city could invest in building its own API in the future, instead of using Airbnb's,  DuMerer said, which would make standardization easier.

The backend of the database is built on an Oracle platform. But the automation -- done with Java -- and front end were largely developed with open source resources, DuMerer said.

Other cities will be able to replicate or learn how Chicago built the registration system because the city  plans to add it to its GitHub repository, she added.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


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