Lawrence City Commission rejects new rules for Airbnbs and other short-term rentals, asks for more limitations
photo by: City of Lawrence
The debate at City Hall about how to regulate short-term rentals where the property owner lives elsewhere will continue.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to reject a set of new rules for whole-home short-term rentals. The commission then asked staff to craft a different proposal with stricter limitations.
The ordinance the commission rejected would have been more permissive than the current regulations, which require a special-use permit for whole-home rentals. It would have instead permitted such rentals as a use by right citywide, but with certain restrictions.
Commissioners Stuart Boley and Lisa Larsen were opposed to the permissive allowance of the rentals citywide, especially in neighborhoods. Mayor Jennifer Ananda, Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei and Commissioner Courtney Shipley were more open to that option, but indicated they wanted to at least amend the ordinance to put more restrictions in place. Boley said short-term rentals where the owner resides in the home or apartment and those where the owner lives elsewhere are different things and should be treated differently.
“And I also have a serious concern about allowing the intrusion of commercial activity by right in our residential neighborhoods,” Boley said.
Boley and Shipley also expressed concerns that whole-home short-term rentals could potentially take away from the city’s supply of affordable long-term rental properties. City staff estimates that there are currently fewer than 200 short-term rental properties in the city, and Ananda said that until that number is greater, she didn’t think it would have a negative effect. Shipley noted that the city’s affordable housing efforts have sometimes only added a handful of units in a year, and that even 50 units moving from an affordable long-term rental to a short-term rental was notable.
Another concern commissioners voiced was that the objection process would set a high bar for neighbors. Under the proposal, neighbors objecting to a rental would be required to show that the rental posed a hazard to the safety of others or substantially interfered with others’ rights to the quiet enjoyment of their properties.
After both opposing and supportive comments from the public and about an hour of commission discussion, commissioners directed city staff to bring back an ordinance with a less-permissive licensing system for whole-home rentals for further discussion. Commissioners said they were interested in considering an ordinance that would allow whole-home rentals in commercial districts and some otherwise nonresidential districts. Commissioners also requested that city staff draft options for a licensing system for residential whole-home rentals that gave neighbors more power to object to the license and capped the number of such rentals citywide.
Finkeldei said he thought there were certain neighborhoods and certain places where short-term rentals would work.
“I don’t think they all destroy the neighborhood,” Finkeldei said. “So I think there’s a process in which we could make that work, as opposed to just banning them outright.”
The ordinance that the commissioners rejected would also have prevented owners from having more than three short-term rentals. Commissioners agreed that the cap should remain in place in the new version of the ordinance.
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 are not owner-occupied, according to city data. About 50 short-term rental applications are pending, waiting for the commission to establish the new regulations.
In other business, the commission voted, 4-1, with Finkeldei opposed, to adopt an ordinance that establishes municipal and communitywide goals to achieve 100% renewable energy in the coming years. Before adopting the ordinance, the commission voted to quicken the pace at which some of the goals are met.
The ordinance continues to call for the city to use 100% renewable energy for the electricity needs of its municipal operations by 2025. The other goals were changed to the following: all renewable electricity communitywide by 2030; renewable energy for all sectors of municipal operations by 2035; and the ultimate goal of using all renewable energy communitywide by 2035.
Larsen, who proposed the changes, said she thought the city could push itself to meet the goals sooner. Strategies and action steps to achieve the goals will be integrated into the development of the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, and Finkeldei said he thought the city should wait until the plan was developed to inform the time frame changes.