Lawrence City Commission to consider banning certain Airbnbs and other short-term rentals from neighborhoods
photo by: Screenshot/Airbnb.com
Lawrence city leaders will soon consider changes to the city’s recently established rules for regulating Airbnb properties and other short-term rentals, including an option to ban certain rentals from neighborhoods.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider revisions to the short-term rental program, a component of which was suspended this spring after commissioners expressed concerns about how it operated. Specifically, commissioners have discussed replacing or revoking the permitting process for whole-home short-term rentals, where the property owner lives elsewhere.
Some commissioners likened whole-home rentals to businesses operating in the middle of residential areas and had concerns about how such operations affect neighborhoods and the city’s shortage of affordable housing. After the whole-home rentals were suspended in the spring, Commissioner Stuart Boley submitted a list of questions to city staff addressing topics such as taxation and affordable housing, and the commission requested that those issues be discussed with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. Planning commissioners indicated they shared some of the City Commission’s concerns, and city staff has now brought potential changes to the permitting process back to the City Commission for discussion.
The options for revising the permitting process range from banning whole-home short-term rentals outright within neighborhoods to establishing licenses for such rentals that would automatically allow them citywide but would also impose several regulations, according to a city staff memo to the commission.
Under the current process, someone who wants to operate a whole-home rental must apply for a special use permit, which notifies neighbors of the application. Neighbors can then file a protest petition. If the petition is successful, the permit can only be approved if four of the five city commissioners vote in favor of it. If the commission decides to grant the permit, it runs with the land and could remain in place permanently, even when ownership of the property changes. In the memo, city staffers say they’ve heard concerns about the process from all involved and that the special use permit process may not be the best process to use for whole-home rentals.
Issues noted by staff include consistency of the process for all parties, public engagement in the review process, impacts to affordable housing, and the potential concentration of short-term rentals in certain neighborhoods. Staff recommends that the commissioners either prohibit whole-home rentals within residential areas or adopt a licensing process that would allow a license to be denied or revoked with “just cause.”
In the latter case, staff proposes establishing one licensing process for all short-term rentals that would allow them by right citywide, regardless of whether they were owner-occupied. The licensing program could require annual notice to neighbors at the time of the license’s renewal, create a process for neighbors to object to the license, and strengthen the license probation and revocation process, according to the memo.
About 25 permit applications for whole-home rentals were in process when the commission decided to suspend the program in March, and dozens more homes in Lawrence are listed on online platforms such as Airbnb. The city has a separate and more permissive licensing process for short-term rentals where the homeowner lives at the property and rents out just a room or an accessory dwelling unit.
The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.