Lawrence whole-home Airbnbs now subject to new rules, possible fines up to $2,500
photo by: Screenshot/Airbnb
The city’s new prohibitions on many Airbnbs and other short-term rentals where the operator doesn’t also live in the home are now in effect, and those who continue to operate such rentals could soon be fined up to $2,500.
Earlier this month, the Lawrence City Commission voted 4-1 to prohibit non-owner-occupied short-term rentals in neighborhoods that are zoned for single-family homes, allowing them only in residential areas zoned as multi-family and in specific types of properties. Those new regulations went into effect over the weekend, and the city will soon start enforcing them.
Under city ordinance, short-term rental operators must obtain a license from the city and display that license in their online listing — common platforms include Airbnb and VRBO. Code Enforcement Manager Brian Jimenez said in an email to the Journal-World that the city will be actively monitoring online listings to ensure short-term rental operators are following city regulations.
“We will routinely check to see if an owner is complying with their license being displayed online and during these checks, we will also look for un-licensed properties,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez said if the license is not listed online or if the city finds unlicensed short-term rentals, the city will contact the owner and put them on notice. In the case of an unlicensed short-term rental, he said the city would send a notice to license the property, as it does with long-term rentals.
If property owners with an unlicensed rental continue to operate it after the city sends them the notice, they can be fined. Jimenez said it is unlawful under city code to operate a rental without a license, and those violations will be processed through Municipal Court. The violation is subject to a minimum fine of $500 and a maximum fine of $2,500 for each unlawful act, according to city code.
The commission has long debated the issue of non-owner-occupied short-term rentals, and it recently approved regulations to amend an ordinance that was only briefly in effect before the commission decided to reconsider that matter. Commissioners have expressed concerns that allowing non-owner-occupied 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. Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei, who voted against the changes, was in favor of allowing non-owner-occupied rentals in residential areas, but with significant restrictions on how many a property owner could operate and the concentration of such rentals in neighborhoods.
The number of short-term rental listings in Lawrence has been increasing in recent years, and before the pandemic there were approximately 200. One of the most popular platforms, Airbnb, currently includes 137 listings in the Lawrence area. Of those listings, about 90 are whole-home rentals, and all but two of those rentals are east of Iowa Street.
City ordinance already allows short-term rentals where the homeowner rents out a room or section of the house, or where the owner rents out the entire house while continuing to live there for 270 days of the year, or about 75% of the time. As part of the recent changes, the commission also voted to expand the definition of owner-occupied short-term rentals to include duplexes and properties that have accessory dwelling units — such as mother-in-law suites or converted carriage houses — as long as the person operating the rental lives in one of the dwellings on the site.
Under the previous regulations, the property owner had to live at the residence for more than 182 days per year for it to be considered owner-occupied, or more than half of the year. Jimenez said that under the new standard, he believes there is less room for an owner to attempt to be deceitful. He said the city will review the occupancy status during the initial licensing of a rental and annual license renewal, and make sure the rental is in fact owner-occupied. If there are discrepancies, he said the city can check multiple city and county records to determine whether the operator is indeed living in the property.
Jimenez said short-term rental annual renewal notices will be mailed out next week, and those notices will also include a fact sheet that highlights the amendments to the ordinance to make sure owners understand all of the changes now in effect.