Editorial: Don’t go too far on rental rules

Regulations beyond inspections and permit requirements could infringe on the property rights of homeowners.

The city of Lawrence is right to develop regulations for short-term rentals, but it should stop short of limiting short-term rentals to owner occupied units.

Lawrence has no such regulations, but there are more than 160 short-term rentals in Lawrence listed on short-term rental sites such as Airbnb.com and VRBO.com. Those numbers are likely to increase, said City Commissioner Matthew Herbert, who in addition to being a high school teacher runs a property management company.

“We have to keep in mind that this isn’t a passing trend, and sometimes these things get treated like they’re a passing trend,” Herbert said. “The reality is that it’s here, it’s been here for a very long time, and (pretending that) saying that we ban short-term rentals means that we don’t have them is incredibly naïve.”

City staff recently began drafting regulations for short-term rentals, which aren’t permitted under city code. Some cities have gone beyond permit and safety regulations to limit the type or number of short-term rentals.

Lawrence shouldn’t go that far.

Permit and inspection processes are necessary and would create a revenue stream for the city to regulate short-term rentals. Properties that weren’t managed properly or were the source of noise, litter, parking or maintenance complaints would face the threat of losing their permit.

But restrictions beyond permits and inspections start to infringe on homeowners’ property rights. Among the steps that go too far are placing limits on the number of nightly rentals in the city, limiting nightly rentals to rooms in owner-occupied homes and limiting when properties can be used for nightly rentals.

Some are concerned that allowing short-term rentals among second homes will decrease the supply of long-term rental housing. But given the record setting pace of rental units that have been added to the city in the past two years, such concerns seem overstated. The market forces of supply and demand ultimately will regulate the volume and pricing of short-term rentals and long-term rentals in Lawrence.

Lawrence should regulate the short-term rental industry to ensure safety compliance and protect neighboring property owners’ rights. But there should be limits to the regulations.