Editorial: Rules on rentals are necessary

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The Lawrence City Commission’s newly adopted guidelines for regulating Airbnb properties and other short-term rentals are appropriate.

Special-use permits will now be required for short-term rentals where the owner doesn’t live on-site, and those permits would have to be approved by the City Commission. The new rules were adopted last week on a 3-2 vote.

Short-term rentals are not allowed under current city code. However, a quick check of airbnb.com shows more than 200 short-term rentals listed in Lawrence.

The permit for nonowner-occupied short-term rentals would have to be considered by the Planning Commission and City Commission, which could vote against approving it. For property owners who live at the short-term rental, the short-term rental use is a right, but it requires a license. Licenses for both owner-occupied and nonowner-occupied short-term rentals require yearly inspections, a certain level of insurance, proof of taxes paid and adherence to the city’s parking and occupancy rules. The city’s inspection program inspects for health and safety issues, such as the presence of smoke detectors and whether windows can be opened.

Mayor Stuart Boley noted the commission’s strategic plan of creating safe, healthy and welcoming neighborhoods. He said short-term rentals could be an intrusion of commercial activity into neighborhoods, and that’s why he supports the new regulations.

“I think we need to be concerned about commercial entities coming in and buying our residential property and turning them into short-term rentals,” Boley said. “There’s been indications in other communities that hotel companies have acquired homes simply for that purpose, so I think this is a good place to start.”

Commissioners Matthew Herbert and Jennifer Ananda voted against the new rules. Herbert questioned the insurance requirement and said he thought they should be inspected either every three or six years based on performance, just like long-term rentals. He described the regulations proposed for short-term rentals as “significantly more severe.”

But, as Boley noted, city commissioners should always adopt the regulations that are in the city’s best interest at the time. Shorter inspection times will ensure quality rentals and avoid the situation the city now faces in which a large percentage of long-term rental customers describe their living conditions as “poor.”

The special-permit regulations for short-term rentals protect homeowners’ rights to use their properties in a variety of ways, while giving the city a tool to deal with nuisance properties. The new regulations also provide the public with an outlet to address concerns about neighboring properties operating as short-term rentals.

The adopted regulations for short-term rentals are necessary and welcome.

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