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Wichita considers new licensing, regulations for Airbnbs and other short-term rentals

2nd and battin.jpg
Celia Hack
/
KMUW
An Airbnb at 2nd and Battin was the site of an April 2021 shooting that left one person dead.

The proposed policies are still under consideration by Wichita’s City Council.

Wichita is considering new regulations and a licensing program for short-term rental units such as Airbnbs and VRBOs.

It is currently illegal for units to be rented for less than seven days in most residential areas, unless the unit has applied for a special permit to operate a bed and breakfast.

“Currently, I would say most of them [short-term rental units] are illegal,” said Scott Wadle, the planning director for the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department. “If you’re offering for someone to rent your house for less than seven days, then you’re in violation of the zoning code.”

The proposed policy would allow short-term rentals in most residential areas. If the owner does not live on-site, they would need to apply for a permit to operate a short-term rental, which requires the notification of neighbors.

“We’re actually trying to clean it up and make it easier for Airbnbs that are going to be less than seven days,” said City Manager Robert Layton. “Because right now, those are operating illegally, and that’s not common practice with Airbnb.”

The city has about 475 short-term rentals, a number that has more than doubled since 2018.

Short-term rentals do not currently need a license from the city, but the proposed policy would make it a requirement. The license would ask property owners to post a “good neighbor” policy in each unit and have an operator available 24/7. It would also limit short-term rentals from being within 600 feet, or about one city block, of one another, Wadle said.

“What that addresses is clustering of short-term rentals in one particular area,” Wadle said. “It’s meant to make sure that they’re distributed in order to address some of the resident comments we’ve heard.”

The new policies would also add more enforcement to ensure short-term rentals followed the requirements of holding a license, such as a $500 a day fine. And Wadle said the city is considering a new “party house” ordinance to address large gatherings at residential properties.

The new policies follow an April 2021 shooting that took place at a house party at a Crown Heights Airbnb. One person died and three people were injured.

City Council member Bryan Frye said he was concerned adding more regulations – such as mandating a 600-foot distance between properties – could limit the ability of short-term rental operators to carry out their operations.

“The Crown Heights incident was tragic, obviously. But I think there’s a quick rush here,” he said. “When something bad happens like this, people cry out for safety, and then the government answers by taking away rights from good people.”

Existing short-term rental units would be grandfathered in and would not have to abide by the 600-foot distance requirement under the potential new policy, Wadle said.

City Council member Brandon Johnson, whose district includes Crown Heights, supported the limit on the number of short-term rentals in proximity to each other. He said it reflected the feedback of community members.

“Neighborhoods want the sanctity of their neighborhoods,” Johnson said. “... If it becomes full of short-term rentals, it’s no longer that great neighborhood. It’s just cool houses.”

A correction was made to this story on 10/26/22 to reflect the city of Wichita's current rules and regulations around short term rentals. A prior version of the story stated that it is illegal for units to be rented for less than seven days in residential areas, if the house isn't owner-occupied. The city's regulations do not differentiate between owner-occupied and non-owner-occupied.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.