Proposed Kansas City Airbnb regulation ordinance met with befuddlement

Kansas City’s first attempt to regulate short-term, shared-economy rentals met with befuddlement and lots of questions Tuesday at a meeting of the City Plan Commission.

The seven commissioners agreed they needed a lot more information about short-term rentals and the sharing economy before they presume to pass judgment on a proposed ordinance.

After three hours of public testimony, the commissioners — all citizen volunteers who serve a key approval role on economic development issues — decided they needed a work session with City Hall staff to learn more.

Another opportunity for public testimony before the commission may occur before the commission in August.

“This wasn’t a waste of time, not for me,” said commissioner Stan Archie. “It’s a start. But we need to get better understanding of our role and the objectives as a city.”

Commissioners heard about 20 people alternately criticize and congratulate the city for trying to regulate temporary lodging obtained through Airbnb, HomeAway and similar rental platforms.

City staff has recommended permit fees, time limits and other restrictions for such rentals. Currently, they are illegal according to city codes, but about 460 properties are registered for rent in Kansas City on Airbnb alone and use of such platforms is growing.

The ordinance, introduced in May, would restrict the length of time a homeowner (defined as one who lives in the residence at least 270 nights a year) could rent to a party to 30 days. It also would limit such rentals to one rental party at a time, and cap the number of rental guests in that single party at eight.

Several people who operate as Airbnb hosts in their own homes questioned those restrictions. Some students or contract workers, for example, rent spaces for more than 30 days. Others questioned why it makes sense, as proposed, to allow up to eight guests to occupy multiple rooms as long as they are part of one renting party but not allow, say, two couples to occupy two rooms because they were two renting parties instead of just one.

That, and several other sticking points were taken under advisement by Diane Binckley, the city’s development division manager, who presented the proposed ordinance.

The proposal also makes distinctions between different areas of the city as well as between carriage house rentals, which would be authorized, and living units above detached garages in other locations, which wouldn’t be allowed.

It also has different rules for owner-occupied rental properties and non-owner-occupied locations. Testimony indicated that most known noise or vandalism problems with short-term rentals have risen in absentee landlord situations when whole houses have been rented for parties.

The ordinance specifically would ban rentals for party purposes.

Commissioners asked for more information to compare ordinances in Kansas City’s peer cities. Binckley said city planners researched ordinances in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Portland, Ore., but members of the public and commissioners said housing situations in those cities weren’t comparable to Kansas City’s.

Other questions centered on how corporate-owned apartment units — used for short-term stays by visiting executives or workers —should differ in treatment from citizen-owned rentals.

Another concern, voiced by representatives of the hotel/motel industry and licensed bed & breakfast operators, focused on safety inspections, fire codes, licensing, insurance and taxing. Exempting Airbnb operators from similar regulations gives them an unfair advantage, the trade representatives argued.

“It’s about finding a balance,” Binckley told the commissioners. “Neighbors have rights and expectations. We do get complaints…That’s what triggered this.”

Commission chairwoman Babette Macy said the commission “would not do it justice if we don’t know what we’re discussing.” She said the commission needed better definitions for all the short-term rental vocabulary.

“It’s much too early to ask us to vote on this,” Macy said, adding, “We need to be open-minded to consumer demand…we need to accommodate this (shared) economy.”

Binckley said the city wasn’t in rush to push through an ordinance and will hold a work session with commissioners before the next opportunity for public testimony.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford