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Kansas City Council approves new rules restricting Airbnbs in residential neighborhoods

A woman sits on a short brick wall looking at the camera. In the foreground is a wood fence with a vinyl sign hanging from it. The sign reads "Homes are not Hotels."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kate Barsotti, the Columbus Park Community Council President, sits near the front porch of her home in the Kanas City neighborhood where she and several residents are displaying their displeasure with the proliferation of short-term rentals.

A majority of short-term rentals in Kansas City operate outside city rules. The new rules require rentals to be licensed through the city — with fines for unlicensed listings — and create a process to deregister rental operators who break the rules.

The Kansas City Council unanimously passed new rules that restrict where short-term rentals like Airbnbs can be located and how they’re licensed.

Officials are seeing more applications for short-term rental licenses than normal — 179 applications since December, all in residential areas. As of April 19, there were 342 approved short-term rentals in the city — out of 1,770 actively listed on Airbnb or Vrbo. That means only 19% of short-term rentals are properly licensed.

The City Council passed two ordinances Thursday that overhaul the current short-term rental system. They toughen penalties on unregistered short-term rentals, restrict where certain short-term rentals can be located, place a different department in charge of enforcement and change requirements around licensing Airbnbs with the city. They follow a report from December that found an overwhelming majority of short-term rentals skirt city law.

Voters approved new taxes and fees on short-term rentals last month.

Councilman Eric Bunch represents the 4th District, which has seen a disproportionate amount of Airbnbs in Midtown and other neighborhoods where tourists congregate.

“I think we came forward with an ordinance that reflects the desires of … those permanent community members who are here for the long haul and they want their neighbors to be here for the long haul as well,” he said.

For months, residents have complained about Airbnbs that swarm into their neighborhoods and cause issues with trash, noise and other quality of life problems.

Laura Burkhalter is the president of the Southmoreland Neighborhood Association, around Country Club Plaza. She said there are about 60 short-term rentals in the small neighborhood.

“We have a lot of long-term rentals and apartment buildings in our neighborhoods,” Burkhalter said. “When the number of homes are being removed from the marketplace to be used as short-term rentals, it really eliminates housing opportunities for Kansas Citians.”

Burkhalter said she supports the restrictions.

“We really need to be prioritizing our neighborhoods and communities and the residents here in Kansas City,” she said.

Kate Barsotti lives in the Columbus Park neighborhood, which has also had issues with Airbnbs. She says Columbus Park doesn’t have a lot of housing stock to begin with.

“Turning your housing, which is meant to be housing, into a hotel that is unstaffed is not sustainable and it's not livable, it's not safe, ” Barsotti said.

What the rules say

The city auditor’s report from December found that the laws on short-term rentals are not strong enough, which makes enforcement difficult and allows unlicensed Airbnbs to proliferate. Prior city law did not prohibit a short-term rental host from listing their property on Airbnb without a permit.

The new rules would require operators to get a permit from the city before they can list their property on a site like Airbnb. New listings under these rules must include the registration number from the city in their listing. Those rules will go into effect June 15.

“This ordinance presents a substantially stronger enforcement regime overall than has been possible under our current code,” said Anne Jordan, director of policy with the mayor’s office. “This would now enlist the partnership of booking platforms by requiring the platforms to only list short-term rentals in Kansas City that have an approved registration number. ”

Any operator who has already been approved for a short-term rental permit will be grandfathered into the city’s new program.

The ordinances also establish a process to deregister an operator who breaks the rules and increase penalties. The previous maximum penalty for an operator who violates short-term rental rules was $150. The new changes set a minimum fine of $200 and maximum fine of $1,000 per day of violation.

The new rules also restrict the location of short-term rentals, particularly when the property owner does not live on site. These non-resident short-term rentals will not be allowed in neighborhoods zoned as residential. That rule is effective immediately.

In addition, a non-resident short-term rental in a building with less than three dwelling units cannot be fewer than 1,000 feet from another short-term rental. In a building with more than three units, a non-resident short-term rental will not be approved if 25% or more of the units are already listed as a short-term rental.

The ordinances also move oversight of short-term rentals to the city’s neighborhoods department. Burkhalter supports that move.

“This really is something that they could handle more effectively,” she said.

But Kansas City residents who operate short-term rentals don’t agree with the rules, particularly the provision banning non-resident short-term rentals from residential neighborhoods.

Lance Pierce is a local short-term rental operator. He said the city council’s actions will kill the short-term rental industry.

“What we've done is we've removed Airbnb, that created a lot of entrepreneurs from Main Street, we've put it back to New York City on Wall Street,” Pierce said. “The only people who can afford to be in (short-term rentals) now are people who can afford commercial property, commercial loans and have hundreds of thousands of dollars in down payment to even participate in this industry.”

All short-term rentals that are already licensed with the city — including those located in residential neighborhoods — will be able to continue operating if the city transitions to a new program.

Bunch said the city doesn’t intend to stop short-term rentals from operating.

“I'm concerned about getting people who are gonna live here full-time, and I'm a little less concerned about people buying properties and turning them into hotels inside neighborhoods,” Bunch said. “We're just saying enough's enough, and we have too many…this is where we've decided to draw the line.”

Updated: May 4, 2023 at 6:48 PM CDT
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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