St. Paul mulls regulations to ground AirBnB

The city wants to study rules that would ensure safety for guests of short-term rentals.

by Taya Banjac

St. Paul resident Laura Rice and her wife started hosting guests in their two spare bedrooms through AirBnB in July to make extra money for their wedding, but the couple has continued using the service ever since.
“Last November, almost every single night was booked with someone,” Rice said, adding that the couple made more than $1,000 that month.
But St. Paul residents like Rice, who open their homes to travelers, might eventually face tougher restrictions.
Amid legal debate over home-sharing companies in cities nationwide, the St. Paul City Council voted last week to study short-term rental properties such as AirBnB for possible regulations to make renters comply with city ordinances and ensure safety for guests. 
Ward 3 Council member Chris Tolbert said the resolution was in response to increased use of AirBnB and other short-term rental companies in St. Paul.
“They are great things, and I think they are great for St. Paul … but they’re also completely unregulated business in the city,” Tolbert said, adding that AirBnB is an affordable travel option he’s used.
He said he doesn’t want to make it harder for people to host and said he doesn’t think regulations will affect most hosts.
“Most people who use AirBnB, there is no problem,” Tolbert said. “We’re not trying to stop that, but there is potential safety issues. There is also fairness issues.”
Hotels and some AirBnB hosts pay occupancy taxes, but others do not, he said. With regulations, all hosts might be required to pay the tax.
In 2015, Santa Monica, Calif., passed an ordinance detailing regulations for AirBnB. That law requires hosts to pay transient occupancy tax, have a business license and have at least one person living on-site for short-term rentals. 
While there are no plans for regulation on short-term rentals in Minneapolis, Duluth passed regulations on AirBnB last summer. 
AirBnB services have expanded in the Twin Cities in the past three years. From 2013 to 2015, the number of hosts has almost tripled.
“I don’t want to stop AirBnB. It’s not my intent, but I think there should be some basic licensing around some of the ways that AirBnB is being used,” Tolbert said
In an average week, one or two guests stay at Rice’s house for a night or two, she said, and most come from out of state. If St. Paul regulations required licensing, Rice said she would take their house off the market. 
“It kind of loses its luster because I don’t think of it as a business; I think of it as us opening our home to people who need a space that’s a lot cheaper than a hotel with people who want to talk to them about the area,” Rice said, adding they can suggest local restaurants and neighborhoods for prospective residents.
“I think it’s a really great way to kind of meet more people and get yourself a little side cash,” Rice said.
Christal Clemens, a 2014 University of Minnesota biology and public health graduate, used AirBnB on her trip with friends to New York last summer to save money.
“There were countless options to choose from that catered to the number of travelers we had and location we wanted to stay in,” Clemens said.
She said regulations could negatively affect the AirBnB community and dissuade people from becoming a host if there are extra costs associated with it.
“I think it benefits both consumer and hosts. … You’re able to live in a home and potentially meet or talk with the host about their home city,” Clemens said.
The group studying the services will make suggestions for changes by June 1.