The Altoona Plan Commission on Tuesday is slated to discuss imposing a set of rules on short-term rentals, including Airbnb and other rental marketplaces.
If the commission recommends an amended ordinance — and if the Altoona City Council votes Thursday to approve it — the city will begin requiring short-term rental owners to obtain a permit from the city before renting.
Online marketplaces have made finding a short-term place to stay widely efficient in recent years: People can rent rooms, apartments or entire houses for short periods through websites like Craigslist, HomeAway and VRBO.
But Airbnb, a rental hosting site founded in 2008, is one of the most popular choices: Wisconsin Airbnb hosts brought in $41 million in 2018, and the average Wisconsin Airbnb host earns about $5,200 per year, according to an Airbnb news release.
Eau Claire County didn’t break the top 25 Wisconsin counties for Airbnb income in 2018, but an Airbnb search shows 21 properties available for rent from Aug. 1-2 in the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls area, ranging from downtown Eau Claire apartments to Lake Wissota cabins.
The Altoona ordinance would separate short-term rentals into two categories: stays under six days long, and stays between seven and 29 days long.
If a homeowner wanted to rent out a room for less than seven days, the owner would have to live at the property during that time, said Altoona city planner Joshua Clements.
The measure is aimed at reducing “vacation rentals,” or residences that are maintained primarily for short-term renting, according to city documents.
The rental must have at least one parking space per bedroom and have 24-hour contact information, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. quiet hours, outdoor burning regulations and police and fire department contact information posted at the residence.
Before granting a permit, the city would inspect the residence. Permits would expire on June 30 and need to be renewed yearly. The owner would need to give the city 24-hour contact information.
According to the proposed ordinance, there are several ways people can violate the permit terms: A public nuisance violation, including noise, from the rental tenants is one violation. An owner who is “persistently” unresponsive to city contact or an owner who fails to pay room taxes within 45 days are others.
The city might impose penalties for each violation. After three strikes, the Plan Commission could hold a public hearing and revoke the permit until the next year, according to the proposal.
Tempted to rent a property without a permit? Owners could get local citations or see legal action from the county or state, according to city documents.
The proposed city permit would be the third permit required of people who want to rent out properties short-term in Altoona, according to the proposal.
There are two other permissions required for Eau Claire County short-term landlords and Airbnb hosts. One is a state tourist rooming house license; the other is a state sales and use tax permit through the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Owners can get the rooming house license through the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, which acts as an agent for the state, said Valerie Reiter, county environmental health specialist.
If the property is correctly zoned, the department inspects the property, looking for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, clean bedding, clean appliances and a space free of safety hazards, Reiter said.
“We make sure the place is in order for the rental,” Reiter said.
If the property is correctly zoned, getting that license might take one month, Reiter said.
“There’s been a lot of change in this area ... a lot of cities are trying to play catch-up, and I think we’re behind the wave to some degree in this region,” Clements said. “A lot of early adopters of Airbnb and similar platforms were in larger cities, more tourism-oriented areas.”
But Altoona’s lakefront properties mean the city can be desirable for short-term renters, Clements said.
The city has taken a wait-and-see approach, but complaints began trickling in last spring stemming from short-term rentals.
“(The Plan Commission in June) shared concerns that if you have a property that’s being run primarily as a short-term rental, it may draw a lot of nuisances because there’s no manager or owner present, potentially,” Clements said. “But they do want to allow for empty nesters or someone who has empty space in their house.
The city wants to take a proactive approach to potential problems, Clements said.
“We could enforce noise complaints, parking violations, burning permit issues and others, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent them,” Clements said. “It’s hard to know if we’ll be successful or not, but it’s a place for us to start.”