Less than a year after Airbnb threatened to sue the city of St. Paul over new regulations for short-term rentals, the two are joining forces to make sure hosts are licensed before they post their property online.
Beginning next week, hosts can attend local "meetups" to learn about St. Paul's licensing requirements. Airbnb is also updating its website so St. Paul users can get information about hosting and city regulators can more easily identify each host's license number.
Airbnb has worked to educate hosts in other cities, according to spokesman Ben Breit, but St. Paul is the only place in the Twin Cities where it's happening now.
"Right now, we're just focused on St. Paul and achieving full compliance for the hosts," he said.
In the lead-up to the Super Bowl this year, St. Paul followed Minneapolis' lead and started regulating people who rent out their homes through websites, such as Airbnb and VRBO, as well as the companies themselves.
Under the St. Paul ordinance, rental hosts must pay the city a $40 annual licensing fee for each unit they're renting and comply with limits on how many visitors they can host at one time. Rental platforms must pay a $10,000 annual licensing fee.
Some short-term rental hosts have been apprehensive about the ordinance, but others see the regulations as a way to stop bad behavior by hosts.
"We want to ensure that hosts are signing up to get their permits, and that they're complying with all of the stipulations of the regulations," said Trudy Ohnsorg, a member of the host group Home Share Twin Cities, which is partnering with Airbnb in its education effort.
"That protects us as hosts because we want to ensure that everybody is having a good experience," she said.
St. Paul's Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI), which regulates short-term rentals, is also partnering with Airbnb to educate hosts. Airbnb will share anonymized data with the city on a quarterly basis so officials can track rental trends.
So far, DSI has issued 153 licenses and four licenses are pending, said spokeswoman Laurie Brickley.
"We're really focused right now on outreach and education," she said.
It's unclear how many short-term rental hosts in St. Paul are unlicensed. Breit said Airbnb had about 750 St. Paul residents host at some point over the last year, but it's likely that some intended to host only during the Super Bowl in February. One goal of the education initiative is to persuade those one-time hosts to obtain a license or remove their online listing, he said.
The St. Paul ordinance originally required host platforms to remove listings for unlicensed properties, but the City Council voted to change it in April after Airbnb threatened legal action. Under the current ordinance, hosts must include their licensing information in any short-term rental advertisement.