Should people be allowed to operate their homes like a bed and breakfast? It’s a practice that has sparked complaints from some residents in Lakeville, where officials are looking at rules for renting out rooms in private homes.

Like other cities, Lakeville has long allowed homeowners to rent rooms to a limited number of people outside their family. The city restricts the number to two renters, a measure designed to make sure full-scale boarding houses don’t start popping up in single-family neighborhoods.

“The intent was to allow a homeowner to have a boarder on a month-to-month basis, maybe somebody who was new to town and hadn’t found a permanent home yet,” said Planning Director Daryl Morey. He noted that the practice became more popular during the economic recession as people looked for ways to make ends meet.

But a permutation has cropped up in the past couple years, with people marketing their homes on the Internet for short-term stays as alternatives to hotels and motels. One popular online vehicle is Airbnb, a website that bills itself as “the world’s largest community hospitality community.” A recent search on the website for a weekend stay in the Twin Cities produced about 250 listings for rooms available in homes throughout the metro area.

Earlier this month the Planning Commission approved several changes in Lakeville’s zoning ordinance, including some for residential boarding. The changes would effectively prohibit homes from operating like lodging establishments by establishing a minimum 30-day rental period and limiting the number of times a homeowner could rent out rooms to once every 30 days. Homeowners also would have to provide one off-street parking spot for their guests.

The changes do a better job of spelling out the intent of rules already on the books for residential boarding, Morey said.

The City Council last week delayed consideration of the matter. City Administrator Steve Mielke said some council members thought the proposed restrictions might need to include definitions of a long-term boarder vs. a day-to-day boarder. Mielke said council members also questioned how the new rules would affect home-based businesses or residents who host guests or visitors in exchange programs.

Mielke said the council will discuss the issues at a future work session.

Lakeville wasn’t out looking for people renting to day-to-day boarders. Morey said the city discovered the short-stay rental phenomenon because of complaints by neighbors.

“What tips people off is that they start having a lot of different cars that are coming and going and getting parked on the street,” he said.

Morey said that, when contacted by the city, some people say they didn’t realize the short-term rentals might not be allowed and agree to stop. Others say it’s none of the city’s business what they do with their homes.

Steve Snider, a longtime Lakeville resident who began renting out two rooms in his five-bedroom house a couple of years ago, said he isn’t happy with the proposed limits.

Snider said he’s an “almost empty-nester” who began letting the room mostly because he enjoys meeting new people. He said he’s had people from France, India and Germany stay in his home and that he has been an advocate for Lakeville’s businesses community by directing guests to local restaurants.

Snider said he checked with his neighbors before he started letting out the rooms and didn’t hear any objections. “There’s no noise, no bother,” he said. There’s only been one occasion when both rooms have been rented at the same time, he said.

Snider said he wouldn’t mind paying a fee if the city were to require homeowners renting out rooms to have a license. But he objects to the 30-day minimum. “What’s the magic difference between 29 and 30 days?” he said.