Lawrence City Commission to consider new rules for Airbnbs and other short-term rentals
photo by: Screenshot/Airbnb.com
City leaders will soon consider significant changes to the way the city handles Airbnb properties and other short-term rentals.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting new regulations for whole-home short-term rentals, where the property owner lives elsewhere. Specifically, the commission will consider adopting an ordinance that would permit whole-home rentals as a use by right citywide, but would cap the number of rentals an owner can operate and establish a method for revoking the license, among other provisions.
If approved, the ordinance would replace the current requirement of a special use permit for whole-home rentals. The city’s short-term rental regulations were created in the fall of 2018, but the previous commission quickly expressed concerns about the permitting process. The commission suspended that portion of the program in the spring of 2019 and subsequently directed city staff to come up with a new method to replace the permitting process.
Under the regulations set up in 2018, someone who wanted to operate a whole-home rental had to apply for a special use permit, which notified neighbors of the application. Neighbors could then file a protest petition. If the petition had enough signatures, the permit could only be approved if four of the five city commissioners voted in favor of it. If the commission decided to grant the permit, it ran with the land and could remain in place permanently, even when ownership of the property changed.
Commissioners expressed various concerns with that process, including the concentration of the rentals in the city’s central neighborhoods, the effect on affordable housing, and an inconsistent and unpredictable permitting process for applicants and neighbors. Because investors and some hotel companies operate large numbers of whole-home short-term rentals in some cities, some commissioners said they were concerned about affordable homes in the core of the city being converted into whole-home rentals, thereby exacerbating the city’s affordable housing shortage.
The city’s licensing process remains in place for short-term rentals where the homeowner lives at the property and typically rents out just a room or an accessory dwelling unit. To date, 63 properties have received a short-term rental license or permit, four of which are whole-home or non-owner occupied, according to city data. About 50 short-term rental applications are pending, waiting for the commission to establish the new regulations.
Following the suspension of the whole-home rental permit, the commission expressed interest in establishing a license program for whole-home rentals, but with certain restrictions. Commissioners discussed putting a cap on the number of whole-home rentals that could be operated by a single owner and establishing other safeguards, such as a process for neighbors to object to the license and a process to revoke licenses for problem properties.
The new ordinance is meant to address the commission’s concerns. A memo from city planners to the commission states that the new ordinance will streamline the overall short-term rental program by creating a common license process for all types of short-term rentals. Key provisions of the ordinance include the following. The full draft ordinance is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.
• All short-term rental licenses must be renewed annually and rentals shall be annually inspected by the code officials, meet occupancy limits and must have a resident agent or management company if the owner does not live within 40 miles of the city, among other requirements.
• Upon the original short-term rental license application and the annual license renewal, neighbors within 200 feet of the rental will be notified. The notice allows neighbors to submit a written objection to the license being issued or renewed.
• To prevail on an objection, the person must establish that the short-term rental poses a hazard to the safety of others or substantially interferes with the rights of others to the quiet enjoyment of their properties. The decision to issue or renew the license is made administratively, and can be appealed to the Building Code Board of Appeals.
• The ordinance limits the number of short-term rental units that an owner can operate to a maximum of three units.
• Short-term rental operators must display their short-term rental licenses on all online platforms that list the property for rent.
• Short-term rental operators that violate the ordinance can have their license put on probation or revoked.
The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.