The sharing, or some would say underground economy, of Airbnb has landed in Lee’s Summit, and the city is deciding how to respond.
A neighborhood in the Monarch View subdivision complains one such operation had become a nuisance and is fighting a special-use permit the owner is seeking to continue business.
Airbnb is an online business that connects people hoping to rent rooms, or even an entire house, instead of conventional hotel rooms. The benefit is usually lower rates.
Tony Blogumas said a divorce and losing his job forced him to begin offering the house at 2710 S.W. Monarch Court for rent on Airbnb. He advertises four bedrooms available in the two-story house.
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“It’s the only way I can pay the utilities and the mortgage on the house,” Blogumas said. He added he has put it up for sale under pressure of the dispute, but before he was ready. He wants to finish update the house before he sells, he said.
He said his guests prefer the atmosphere of a home to a hotel. The house is occupied by guests about nine to 12 days a week, and three weekends a month.
He said that he first approached the city in January to get a business license, but officials didn’t know how to handle that proposal. He said he volunteered to serve on any board or committee appointed to work on ordinances for Airbnb rentals.
A public hearing on his permit is scheduled for the Aug. 10 City Council meeting.
Bob McKay, director of planning and special projects, said that Blogumas’ project didn’t fit into city zoning categories. The ordinance passed for bed and breakfasts was expected to be used in the historic parts of town and with a full-time resident.
McKay said his department was aware of at least two owners offering rentals through Airbnb in the Monarch View neighborhood. It has started enforcement on both, but Blogumas applied for a permit to come into compliance.
“Right now we’re only catching them when we get complaints,” McKay said.
McKay said the city’s ordinances were more designed to work in the historic parts of town, where there are larger lots and owners could provide parking on the side or behind the bed and breakfast, and it would be screened. That is a requirement of the ordinance, and Blogumas is seeking an exception to that rule.
At the Blogumas house, there is only parking in front of the three-car garages or inside the garage.
On the Airbnb website, when an owner offers a rental, the posting initially gives the general location and the owner’s first name and reviews, and suggests that renters and owners only communicate through the website.
Airbnb does suggest its hosts pay local taxes and report transactions to the IRS, but still it’s not easy for local authorities to track and regulate the business.
Neighbors complain that he doesn’t live in the residence, a requirement of the permit. Blogumas said in the future he would be staying there more.
Blogumas said the ordinance doesn’t specify how often he has to be there overnight. He has been at the residence and is working on updating it to sell, he said.
“My stuff is there, in the garage, and my clothes are in the closet,” he said.
A public hearing on his permit is scheduled for the August at a City Council meeting.
A look at the Airbnb website shows about 30 residences offering rooms, or even the entire house, McKay said.
He said his department is researching how other cities are handling Airbnb and will take that information to the council’s Community and Economic Development Committee.
He said that the Airbnb operations conflict with the city’s attempt to to encourage conventional hotels and the city loses tax revenue because the operators of Airbnb aren’t paying the city’s bed tax.
Jeromey Baker, who lives on the cul-de-sac, said at first the situation did not bother him.
“I like small business,” Baker said. “I had no problem with people doing small business endeavors.”
But guests renting the house were sometimes rude, blocking the street. When the parking problems and loud parties happened, it made him question whether the Airbnb was appropriate in the neighborhood.
He serves in the military and is sometime gone for an extended period and he worries about his family’s security.
At the July 7 Planning Commission meeting, neighbors of Blogumas testified there had been raucous parties where as many as 18 cars clogged the street around the house.
They said they were concerned about strangers coming into their neighborhood for inappropriate behavior.
A single-family neighborhood like the Monarch View subdivision is not the place to run a business that is operating like a hotel, several people testified.
Every homeowner surrounding the house has signed a protest petition against the special use permit, enough to assure that at least six of eight council members will have to vote for approval under city laws.
Amy Nau, who lives next door, said she’s worried about what her children will be exposed to, because the subdivision rules don’t allow high privacy fences. The home has overwhelmed parking on the street several times, she said.
“There were so many cars, had we had an emergency at our house there wouldn’t have been an ability for a fire truck to get through the road,” Nau said.
“I did not sign a mortgage to live next to a motel. This is bad for me and bad for our community in Monarch View.”
While the council will have to decide what to do with the specific permit in Monarch View, McKay said, a subcommittee will be taking up how to handle such businesses in general. It’s another aspect of the city catching up with online businesses that are a challenge for older regulations.
“This is a phenomenon that’s happening across the country, actually, across the world,” McKay said.