Wichita City Council passes regulations, licensing for short-term rentals like Airbnbs

KMUW | By Celia Hack

Short-term rentals like Airbnbs and VRBOs will need to get a license and pay a fee to operate in the city of Wichita after the council passed new regulations Tuesday.

Many of the short-term rentals that operate in residential areas currently do so against existing city codes.

“I would venture to say there are very few short-term rentals in Wichita today that are in compliance with the zoning, unless they’re renting for seven days or more,” said Scott Wadle, the city’s planning director.

The policy change City Council approved means short-term rentals can now operate legally, if they obtain the required licensing and zoning permits.

The city’s short-term rental market has grown significantly in the past decade. Wichita has close to 600 short-term rentals, according to Kelli Reid, an Airbnb owner and community leader.

The regulations would require a $225 annual fee and liability insurance. Occupancy would be limited, as would the number of people gathering at the short-term rentals.

The regulations follow a 2021 shooting at an Airbnb in Crown Heights, where one person died and three were injured. Neighbors grew increasingly concerned following the shooting.

“This is just not acceptable … and it’s damaging for neighborhoods,” one resident wrote, according to a list of public comments the city collected. “Single night rentals make massive house parties possible.”

The policy allows short-term rentals in most residential areas. If the owner does not live on-site, they would need to apply for a special permit to operate, which requires the notification of neighbors. If half of the notified neighbors oppose the short-term rental, then the application is forwarded to the city’s planning commission.

Existing short-term rentals have six months to meet the new licensing requirements and up to a year to get into compliance with the new zoning code.

Neighborhood leaders and short-term rental owners both spoke at the meeting, with mixed opinions on the city’s new rules.

Trish Hileman, a member of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, asked the council to consider even more restrictions. She requested a limit on the percentage or number of licenses that could be issued for short-term rentals in a neighborhood.

“Every house that becomes a (short-term rental) is one residence … that can’t be used for residents to live in,” Hileman said. “That means you’re making tighter the rental market and the housing market for people who purchase houses.”

Kelli Reid, who owns two short-term rentals, said she supports most of the regulations the City Council passed because they will help bring her Airbnbs in line with city code.

“I’m very much in favor of having a policy so we aren’t out of compliance,” Reid said.

“We have been far behind the eight ball when it comes to being able to have regulation and policy around short-term rentals.”

She said keeping short-term rentals in the community is vital to the comfort of travelers passing through Wichita.

“We have a lot of families. We have a lot of folks here for weddings, for funerals,” Reid said. “We have people adopting babies who come. They’re here for medical treatment, they’re here for work, they’re traveling nurses. And they have a need, and it’s beyond what a hotel can provide.”

At the meeting, the council also considered a nuisance party ordinance that would allow police to fine residences hosting raucous or disruptive gatherings. But it was deferred until Dec. 12 to allow the city to contact more community groups that could be impacted by the policy.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.

Celia can be reached by email at celiahack@kmuw.org.

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW