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Rules suggested for short-term rentals

May 23, 2019

A house with rooms for rent on a website like Airbnb could be getting an extra level of oversight if it’s missing one important piece.

An owner living on site.

“Presumably, if you are the owner and living there, you are going to take care of the problems on your own,” Rochester City Council President Randy Staver said, noting that unoccupied properties used as short-term rentals likely need added regulations to address safety concerns.

The city’s Community Development Department staff turned to the council Monday for added direction in a discussion that started more than a year ago.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that short-term rentals fall between the regulations for hotels and apartments.

On Monday, council members provided direction for further conversations regarding potential regulations, indicating they favored an approach that would require an inspection every two years for any short-term rental that was not occupied by the owner.

Homeowners using similar practices to rent a room in a house they occupy would simply need to register and pay a one-time fee, according to the proposal that received support from the five council members present during the Monday afternoon meeting.

While fees weren’t set, Community Development planner Ryan Yetzer suggested a $40 one-time fee for owner-occupied rentals would be appropriate, along with an annual $50 license and $75 inspection fee for properties rented without the owner on the premises.

Council Member Michael Wojcik said the fees appeared fair, but asked staff to ensure they covered costs of the proposed regulations.

With an estimated 308 units to face inspection, Rochester Building Safety Director Randy Johnson said the proposed plan would require adding a staff member.

“At this point, we don’t have the staff to cover these additional inspections,” he told the council.

Cindy Steinhauser, community development director, cautioned that the estimated number of units facing inspections is based on data from a specific time period and could change if numbers grow.

“It’s a market that changes by the minute,” she said.

Data presented by Yetzer indicates the number of short-term rental units in Rochester grew by nearly 28 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Council Member Annalissa Johnson indicated that it will be important to make sure the city can cover inspection needs.

“If we’re putting rules together, we need to have the staffing to support those rules,” she said.

Wojick proposed using city regulations to license online platforms like Airbnb, which could also provide the city with access to data on usage.

The data could also be used to track potential trends and problems in the city.

“Until we have the data, it’s hard to assess what the impact is,” he said.

Steinhauser said staff will use the council input to continue work on potential regulations.

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