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Madison may tighten enforcement for Airbnb operators
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Madison may tighten enforcement for Airbnb operators

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MADISON MUNICIPAL BUILDING

The Madison City Council will soon consider a proposal to create an annual permit for tourist rooming houses offered by Airbnb and other operators. 

Seeking better administration and tighter enforcement, Madison may soon require operators of Airbnb rentals and other tourist rooming houses to get annual permits.

Alds. Patrick Heck, Arvina Martin and Shiva Bidar on Tuesday will propose an ordinance to require Airbnb and other rooming house operators to get the permits. The move is intended to address city staff challenges in enforcing tourist rooming house regulations that require a public health license, paying room taxes and compliance with zoning rules.

In its zoning, the city requires that a tourist rooming house must be the operator’s primary residence and that an operator may only rent the housing for 30 days per calendar year when not present. The rules are supposed to ensure operators are there most of the time and prevent investors from buying property for the sole purpose of renting out the entire unit.

When operators are absent, there is less oversight of the property, city officials said.

Increasingly, the city is finding situations where operators don’t understand or purposely mislead city staff on whether a specific dwelling unit used as a rooming house is a primary residence, the proposed ordinance says. Some operators fail to keep a guest registry or are reluctant to share it, and others appear to be buying or leasing properties for the sole purpose of renting as tourist housing, it says.

“If people are wiling to lie, it’s pretty easy for them to get away with it,” said Heck, 2nd District. “There have been a couple of these that have gotten out of hand.”

Meanwhile, prospective operators have voiced confusion over which city regulations apply and who is responsible for enforcement of rules, which were adopted in 2013, the proposed ordinance says.

Currently, three agencies — Public Health Madison and Dane County, the Treasurer’s Office, and the city zoning administrator — oversee distinct regulations, which can involve noncompliance, and problems with noise, partying and parking in neighborhoods.

“Right now, it’s kind of tricky,” Environmental Health Division director Doug Voegeli said. “We’ve got three different agencies concentrating on three different areas.”

The $100 annual permit is intended to centralize requirements in one place and strengthen protections for neighborhoods, assistant city attorney John Strange said.

“It’s all about making sure the city knows what’s going on at these rentals,” Heck said.

Under the proposed ordinance, an operator must apply to the city zoning administrator with :

  • Information about ownership and the property.
  • Proof of a license from Public Health Madison and Dane County and registration with the city Treasurer’s Office to pay room taxes.
  • Floor plans.
  • Contact information.
  • A guest registry.
  • A notarized affidavit saying the housing is the operator’s primary residence.

The ordinance also provides for initial zoning administrator inspections and the authority to inspect with 48 hours notice, or with no notice if there’s probable cause to believe a violation is occurring. Public Health does separate inspections under state law.

Operators also must provide quarterly reports including: the identity of each guest, dates and length of stay, license plate numbers, whether the operator was present or not each day of the stay, and a listing of all websites and places the housing was advertised.

Failure to comply with the ordinance could result in daily fines between $500 and $1,000, as well as the revocation of a permit, which must be renewed by June 30 each year.

As recently as early 2017, perhaps only 15 to 20 of hundreds of Airbnb and other operators were compliant with city requirements. But the city hired a company to track down those in violation of its tourist rooming house ordinance, and 244 operators are now licensed with Public Health, Voegeli said. There are an estimated 382 operators in the Madison area, he said.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “We’ve been steadily adding to the numbers.”

Some operators have abandoned the short-term rental market since the city began to step up enforcement, and others may quit if the proposed new rules are adopted, he said.

The proposed ordinance will be referred to city committees for study, with a final council decision possible in February or March.

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