Recently proposed city regulations could throw Kansas City home-sharing in the doghouse.
More than 100 area hosts and guests of services like Airbnb and VRBO fueled a discussion Monday on home-sharing regulations that the City of Kansas City, Mo., is proposing after complaints of abuse. Led by assistant city manager Rick Usher, city officials met with concerned residents at Think Big Partners to kick off early discussions on the proposed regulations.
In short, the new measures would require hosts to live in and own their unit before obtaining a special use permit to lease their property, which also entails bookkeeping subject to inspection by the city. A permit would cost about $600. “With Uber, we learned that we have to really push into the community to get the feedback that is needed.” – Rick Usher
“With Uber, we learned that we have to really push into the community to get the feedback that is needed.” – Rick Usher
Usher emphasized that the proposed regulations are in their infancy and that the city is still collecting information. The city is now welcoming public input on the regulations, which were in part modeled after rules in Portland and Nashville, Usher said.
“We want to do this in a way that’s not disruptive to neighbors or to operators,” Usher said. “We want to be as supportive of the sharing economy as we can.”
The city has still not compiled information on complaints regarding home-sharing operations. Usher said the complaints have been increasing in frequency “for quite some time” from neighbors in condos and single-family neighborhoods.
Complaints focused on concerns with frequent strangers near residents’ homes, Usher said. Some attendees voiced theories that area hotels — who may feel threatened by a loss of business thanks to Airbnb — were behind the push for new regulations. Usher said the grievances were not filed by area hotels but rather submitted anonymously through the city’s 311 service.
While complaints may be the impetus for regulations, home-sharing hosts are technically breaking city law when renting out a unit. Usher said the overarching issue is that people are renting out a property for less than 30 days in a residential zoning district, which goes against city zoning code. Usher said many attendees of Monday’s meeting suggested that the city simply amend that part of the code to allow for short-term rentals, which city officials are now considering.
The situation at its onset is reminiscent of the city’s spat with Uber in 2015. The city initially drafted for-hire transportation regulations that compelled Uber to temporarily leave the city, sparking a heated response from area business leaders. Eventually, the city and Uber struck a compromise that reinstated the service, leading the company to open a new local office.
Usher added that the city has already reached out to Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway to gather input on appropriate regulations.
“We’re interested in partnering with home-sharing companies like these to market Kansas City,” Usher said, recognizing that many hosts see themselves as ambassadors of Kansas City. “Last year, we worked through issues with Uber and they’re operating in Kansas City today.”
Usher said that the city learned lessons from its negotiations with Uber that it hopes to apply with regard to regulations for home-sharing. Kansas Citians are passionate about the sharing economy, Usher said, which was reflected in the strong turnout at Monday’s meeting.
“I thought the conversations went really well,” Usher said. “We want the community to tell us what the best solutions are. … With Uber, we learned that we have to really push into the community to get the feedback that is needed.”
Tech leaders in the area already are taking note of the proposed regulations. KCnext president Ryan Weber, whose organization represents the area tech sector, said Airbnb, VRBO and other services appeal to prospective employees of area tech businesses.
“As the regional advocate for the technology industry, it is our stance to support policies that embrace the new sharing economy without putting citizens at risk,” Weber said. “Many of these new tech-related lifestyle assets are important to our region’s ability to attract young, talented people.”
Complications and regulations
As now written, the regulations require a property owner to apply for a $596 special use permit if they intend to host a guest, who can only reside on the property for less than 90 days. A property owner also must keep records on dates of each stay and the name, contact information and vehicle license plate information for each overnight guest. Tenants cannot lease a dwelling unit. Accessory buildings — guest houses, trailers, tree houses, etc. — are considered to be a bed and breakfast, which are under separate regulation.
Drafting the regulations, however, is only the first challenge. After rules are passed, the city would be tasked with issuing permits and managing enforcement of the new zoning codes. Investigations would largely be initiated by a 311 complaint call, and violators could be subject to fines. He added that the city would not be staging sting operations to catch hosts of Airbnb-like services.
“That’s the fun of code enforcement,” Usher said of the difficulty implementing new rules. “We won’t go out systematically trying to find violators or going door-to-door trying to find violations.”
The city hopes to propose amended regulations to the public in about one month. To offer input on the regulations, click here.
Here are a few highlights of the regulations:
- Property owners can only apply for a special use permit to lease a “short term stay establishment” if they live there at least 275 days out of the year.
- A tenant cannot lease an apartment or home on Airbnb, VRBO or other home-sharing services.
- A special use permit for a “short term stay establishment” or bed and breakfast costs $596.
- Special-use permits may be issued for a maximum of two years. Upon re-approval, the Kansas City Board of Zoning shall determine a time limit, if any.
- A “short term stay establishment” cannot be an “accessory” property near the primary unit. At times, Airbnb hosts will feature their guest houses, trailers, tree houses or similar units adjacent to the property. A host would have to apply for a separate bed and breakfast permit for such a property.
- A “short term stay establishment” must be eight bedrooms or smaller, or is otherwise deemed a hotel.
- A property owner must keep records on dates of each stay and the name, contact information and vehicle license plate information for each overnight guest.
- The owner is not required to be on the premise while the dwelling unit is being leased for a short term stay.
- “Short term stay units” may not be leased as reception space, party space, meeting space or for other similar events open to non-resident guests.