Few short-term rentals have registered with Wichita since the city passed regulations last year

KMUW | By Ainsley Smyth/Wichita Journalism Collaborative

Celia Hack

The first deadline for owners of short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO to get a license from the city of Wichita has passed, and only 13 properties have registered so far.

Five short-term rentals have their license, while eight properties have a license pending, according to a city database of short-term rental licenses from last week.

The March 12 deadline only applied to owner-occupied properties, according to the city. Short-term rentals where the owner does not live on-site still have until Sept. 12 to be in compliance.

The city is aware of more than 400 short-term rentals in Wichita, said council member Brandon Johnson. It is unclear how many of those are owner-occupied.

Johnson said the city isn’t strictly enforcing the March deadline to get licensed right now, but he predicts leniency will go away as the September deadline gets closer.

“Right now, we are just trying to make sure as many people know – and especially now that that deadline has passed – to let them know that they are out of compliance and try to get them in compliance,” Johnson said.

“We try to do what we can to make sure folks get into compliance voluntarily before we hit them with the enforcement, especially as this is something new.”

The regulations that passed last September require licensing, a fee, liability insurance and a set maximum occupancy limit. They also permit the city to fine owners up to $500 a day for operating without a license.

The changes came after a 2021 shooting at an AirBnB in an east Wichita neighborhood sparked discussion around the safety and legality of short-term rentals.

The ordinance also includes restrictions on gatherings, like the party where the 2021 shooting took place. It limits the number of people who can gather and requires them to leave by 10 p.m.

Previously, rentals of less than seven days were prohibited by city zoning codes, but that didn’t stop them from operating.

Cindy Renard has rented out an Airbnb in southeast Wichita for more than three years. Renard said she previously complied with the city’s existing regulations, only renting her properties for seven or more days. Hers is one of the 13 properties that has registered with the city.

Renard said she’s surprised so few short-term rentals have registered, but that many owners are probably not yet aware of the regulations.

“It took a lot of work on my end to find out what the deadlines were, the steps,” Renard said. “It did take a little pursuing. Because you’re not notified by the city, right, at least not yet. So, I think a lot of people may not know.”

Cindy Renard rents out her secondary property in the Wichita area as an Airbnb. She originally purchased the property for her retirement, but she is unsure if she wants to leave her current neighborhood and community. Selena Favela

For many short-term rental owners, including Renard, coming into compliance with the new regulations may also include changing their property’s zoning. If a short-term rental applies for a zoning change to operate, neighbors receive a letter from the city and can choose to protest the change.

If more than 50% of the neighbors protest, the case must then go through a process involving the district advisory board, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and City Council.

In Renard’s case, some neighbors protested but not enough to stop Wichita from granting a permit. Members of the neighborhood’s Homeowners Association asked the city to deny the permit because it would violate its rules on operating a commercial business in a residential area.

Denny Marlin is a resident of the Crown Heights neighborhood where a shooting occurred at an Airbnb in 2021. Selena Favela

Denny Marlin is a resident of the Crown Heights neighborhood where the 2021 shooting occurred. He said that zoning is meant to protect residential areas, and allowing short-term rentals in those areas can put neighborhoods on edge.

“If you have to live next door to that, you don’t know who’s supposed to be there,” he said. “You don’t know if somebody is not supposed to be there.”

Marlin said he’s not surprised so few rentals have registered so far.

“I think a lot of (Crown Heights residents) were skeptical if they would have the resources in place to enforce the new rules,” he said.

But, he said, he hopes the city will try to contact short-term rentals owners to get them registered and into compliance.

City Council member Johnson said that he expects to see an uptick in registration this summer as the city identifies and hears about more short-term rentals.

“We have active neighborhoods, letting us know where short-term rentals are,” Johnson said. “So, we can check in our system to see if they are licensed and then reach out to those property owners and let them know.”

This article was co-reported by KMUW and The Journal, published by the Kansas Leadership Center, as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative (WJC). The WJC is a partnership of 11 media and community partners, including KMUW.

The WJC is embarking on 18 months of dedicated coverage to shed light on the pressing issue of affordable housing in Wichita.

Ainsley Smyth, a student at Wichita State University, is the Spring 2024 semester intern for the Wichita Journalism Collaborative.

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW