Lawrence City Commission to discuss changes to Airbnb permits, including possibly banning some from neighborhoods

photo by: Screenshot/Airbnb.com

This screenshot of Airbnb's website on Monday, May 13, 2019, shows 60 whole-home short-term rentals in the Lawrence area.

Lawrence city commissioners will soon consider whether to walk back the city’s new regulations for Airbnb rentals and potentially ban certain rentals from neighborhoods.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the commission will discuss amending the recently established permitting process for whole-home short-term rentals, where the property owner lives elsewhere. Currently, about 30 property owners have applied for such a permit, which allows them to rent out the property for less than 30 days at a time, and dozens more homes in Lawrence are listed on online platforms such as Airbnb.

After creating regulations for short-term rentals last year, the commission recently began reviewing permit applications for whole-home short-term rentals. In March, neighbors submitted a protest petition against one of the first permit applications, and after considering their concerns the commission denied the permit, citing incompatibility with the neighborhood. Commissioners subsequently voted to defer the consideration of other whole-home permits on their agenda in order to consider major questions about how the properties should be regulated and how they might affect the city’s affordable housing shortage.

Staff responses to the commission’s questions were sent to the Planning Commission, and planners said they shared some of the commission’s questions and had significant concerns about the effects of corporate entities potentially taking over a large number of whole-home short-term rentals, among other concerns. As most of the whole-home short-term rentals are near downtown or the University of Kansas, planning commissioners voiced concerns about such rentals saturating neighborhoods and the consequences that could have.

The city has a separate and more permissive licensing process for short-term rentals operated by homeowners, where the homeowner lives at the property and typically rents out just a room or an accessory dwelling unit. For those homeowners, the short-term rental use is a right but requires a license. About 50 of those licenses have been approved since the city adopted the new short-term rental regulations, according to the presentation.

Following the Planning Commission’s discussion, city staff is recommending that the City Commission take one of three actions, the most extreme being not to allow whole-home short-term rentals in neighborhoods. Staff members are seeking the commission’s direction on whether to maintain, amend or revise the existing permitting process.

A city staff presentation for Tuesday’s meeting notes both benefits and issues regarding short-term rentals. Benefits include improved property conditions and economic benefits for property owners and the city. Issues include the effect that commercialization and a high turnover of unknown people have on neighborhoods, as well as the impact on the city’s supply of affordable housing as more homes are converted from long-term rental housing and single-family homes to short-term rentals.

In a memo to the commission, city staff states that there are “varying levels of confidence” among staff, planning commissioners and city commissioners, neighbors and applicants regarding the special use permitting process currently in place for whole-home short-term rentals. Staff said possible alternatives to the permitting process include but are not limited to three options: administratively licensing all short-term rentals with stricter standards related to issues such as parking and guest occupancy; prohibiting whole-home short-term rentals, but permitting the City Commission to grant waivers for that use; and only allowing whole-home short-term rentals in nonresidential areas.

The City Commission will convene at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

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