Lawrence City Commission to consider prohibiting certain Airbnbs and other short-term rentals

photo by: Screenshot/Airbnb.com

Some of the approximately 90 whole-home short-term rentals listed on the Airbnb website for the Lawrence area are pictured in this screenshot from Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

City leaders will soon continue their long-running discussion about whether to allow Airbnbs and other short-term rentals where the property owner lives elsewhere.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider whether to prohibit non-owner-occupied short-term rentals in some or all residential areas. The city already allows short-term rentals where the homeowner rents a room or section of the house, or where the owner rents the entire house while continuing to live there most of the year. However, commissioners have disagreed about how to handle non-owner-occupied or commercially run rentals.

After a long discussion and a failed vote to outright prohibit non-owner-occupied short-term rentals in August, the commission decided to continue the discussion and bring new options to the table. At that time, Commissioners Stuart Boley and Lisa Larsen said that they considered non-owner-occupied short-term rentals commercial enterprises that should not be allowed in residential neighborhoods. Boley, Larsen and Commissioner Courtney Shipley also expressed concern that allowing such rentals — which city maps show are primarily located in the city’s older, core neighborhoods — takes away from the city’s stock of affordable housing.

However, Shipley said she could not support completely prohibiting non-owner-occupied short-term rentals as they are currently defined in city code. Specifically, she said homeowners whose properties have accessory dwelling units — such as mother-in-law suites or converted carriage houses — should be allowed to operate a whole-home short-term rental as long as they live in one of the dwellings on the property. Ultimately, the commission directed city staff to bring back more information about potentially restricting non-owner-occupied short-term rentals by zoning or other parameters and to continue the conversation about the definition of an owner-occupied short-term rental.

Mayor Jennifer Ananda and Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei expressed support for an ordinance that allowed non-owner-occupied short-term rentals in residential areas, but with significant limits on how many one owner can operate and the concentration of such rentals in neighborhoods.

For the meeting Tuesday, city staff has drafted multiple ordinance options for commissioners to consider. One draft prohibits non-owner-occupied short-term rentals only in neighborhoods that are zoned for single-family homes and allows them in multi-family zoning, while another prohibits them in all residential zoning types. Additionally, staff has drafted changes to city code that would allow an accessory dwelling unit or duplex to be used as a short-term rental as long as the property owner resides on the lot.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m., with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

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