On Short-Term Rentals
I recently attended a meeting of the Transportation and Commerce Committee of the Saint Louis City Board of Aldermen held for public testimony. The committee discussed Board Bills 33 and 34, which both deal with short-term rentals (STR).
Often synonymous with Airbnb or Vrbo, STR properties are units intended to be rented out for less than a month. These properties provide a place to stay for people passing through and visiting St. Louis, encourage competition within the lodging industry, and bring revenue to their communities. Some owners, however, have been renting to unpredictable tenants, leading to out-of-control parties, violence, and even murder.
STR regulation has become common in major cities such as New York and London. Even some Missouri municipalities are adopting new rules. Citing similar frustrations to the City of St. Louis, St. Charles just placed a moratorium on new residential STRs in most of the city for a year.
The proposed regulations in St. Louis would, among other changes, create a permit and punishment system to hold STR operators accountable, require a Graduated Business License for owners renting out property they do not live in and a permit for individuals who rent out their primary residence, require a 24/7 available contact for the STR, and limit individuals to four permits for units they do not live in.
While some regulations on STRs are warranted due to the disturbances and dangers they can cause, parts of the proposal appear excessive.
The limit of four STR properties per owner seems like a solution in search of a problem. The city might have included a limit to prevent STR owners from operating many units (so many that someone could not realistically operate them alone) and ensuring that there is always some level of oversight for the STR properties. However, the requirements for each rental (24/7 contact, licenses, permits, punishments) should be more than enough to keep STR owners in check without more regulation. If someone can properly run several STRs without harming the community, why is the government trying to place further restrictions on them and create incentives to subvert the law?
More troubling is requiring permits for owner-occupied units. An STR is considered an owner-occupied unit when a property owner rents out a space where they live (such as a finished basement, or a garage converted into a studio). From the bill:
Applicants for a Short-Term Rental permit for an Owner-Occupied Dwelling Unit shall submit, on an annual basis, an application for a Short-Term Rental permit to the Building Division. The application shall be accompanied by a non-refundable application fee in the amount of $150.00. – Board Bill 33, Page 5, Line 19
Not only does this degrade a means by which countless people have been able to afford academic programs or help lodge friends and family, it might run afoul of state law. Missouri Statute 71.990 limits restrictions on “home-based businesses” and may conflict with the proposed bills. St. Charles’s legislation might not be legal either. It is likely that courts will have to sort out the interplay between Missouri statute and local ordinances.
Overall, these bills appear to do a good job of regulating non-owner-occupied properties. They would give communities more power in mitigating problems with STRs while not being restrictive on those who rent their property. The proposals for owner-occupied properties, however, could be improved.
My colleagues Avery Frank and David Stokes discuss their opinions on the proposed bills here.