St. Paul leaders want to make sure residents renting out their guest rooms and homes during the Super Bowl are providing safe spaces, but some property owners and rental users say the city's proposed regulations go too far.
The rules would affect people who use online rental services, such as Airbnb, Expedia and VRBO, to advertise short-term rental housing. They would have to get a city license, meet certain parking and insurance requirements, and pay lodging and sales taxes. The city is also considering limits on how many units in a duplex, apartment or condominium building could be rented out and how many people could stay in a home.
"I'm not against regulations, but I'm against overzealous regulations," Airbnb user Casey Nordendale said at a public hearing Wednesday. Proposed limits on parking and the prohibition of social events at the bed-and-breakfasts seem overzealous, he said.
The St. Paul City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed regulations next week. Minneapolis is working on its own ordinance for short-term rentals and has a public hearing set for Tuesday. The Twin Cities are joining the growing ranks of cities looking to better control the popular online marketplaces and limit side-effects on neighborhoods.
Owners of classic bed-and-breakfasts, long frustrated by the lack of rules for competitors like Airbnb, have been encouraging cities to regulate the companies. It's not easy to run an inn in St. Paul, said Carla Sherman, owner of Como Lake Bed and Breakfast.
"So why should it be easy for any Tom, Dick or Harry to just open their doors and not collect taxes or be inspected?" Sherman said.
Kay Schwarzrock is one of the hundreds of people in the Twin Cities who use the services to fill empty rooms. She started renting out part of her duplex in the Merriam Park neighborhood this summer. She said cities must strike a "careful balance" to ensure neighborhoods aren't burdened with too many visitors, while also not stifling this new economy.
She's OK with much of what St. Paul has proposed, including the $70 licensing fee for hosts. Other cities, like Duluth, require people who rent out a room or home to get costly annual permits. But Schwarzrock and others said the city has gone too far in restricting the number of adults allowed to stay in a unit to four.
"Four is kind of an arbitrary limit if you have a house that can handle more," she said. "Whether it's family or friends who want to travel together, having a place to stay together is something that is very desirable."
In addition to scaling back the number of guests and licensing property owners, the city is also planning to require the online platforms — such as Expedia, VRBO and Airbnb — to get a license and pay the city a $7,000 fee. The companies would have to remove hosts' listings when they do not comply with the city's rules. The city could pull a company's license if they do not, said Dan Niziolek of the city's Department of Safety and Inspections.
"Requiring Airbnb or any other platform to remove listings would violate the Communications Decency Act, which holds that platforms may not be punished for editorial functions such as electing to remove (or not remove) content," Airbnb public policy director Laura Spanjian wrote in a letter to St. Paul leaders. "We are willing and eager to discuss how we can work together to address bad actors."
Platforms are concerned about additional regulations and expectations, Niziolek said. But looking at what has occurred in other cities across the country, he said, he is confident they would comply with the city's request to remove problematic postings.