Springfield City Council gives first-step OK to regulations, inspections for short-term room rentals

Read the original article by Peter Goonan here.

SPRINGFIELD — The City Council gave first-step approval on Monday to an ordinance that would regulate short-term room rentals in Springfield, including a requirement for annual city inspections.

Councilor Jesse Lederman, the lead sponsor, said the proposed ordinance will provide “best practices” for overseeing the short-term rental market, where homeowners use websites like Airbnb and HomeAway to rent rooms or apartments to visitors for brief stays.

Such short-term rentals are a “fantastic program,” Lederman said, but added: “We want to be respectful of the residential integrity of neighborhoods.”

The proposed ordinance was submitted in January.

The annual inspection would ensure that the rooms or units being rented meet city codes including “minimum standards for human habitation.” Each rental must have “a functioning smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector, and fire extinguisher on the licensed premises, in each bedroom and common area,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance has been discussed in subcommittee meetings in recent months, with another meeting planned before the council considers final passage of the ordinance, Lederman said.

Kevin Sears, co-owner of Sears Real Estate in Springfield, said he has some concerns about the proposal, especially a requirement for rental properties to be owner-occupied. The council amended the ordinance Monday to allow the owner-occupant to be part of an ownership group or limited liability company. But Sears said he is still concerned the proposal goes too far and “is stripping away property rights for owners” protected under the U.S. Constitution.

People are looking for options for overnight and short-term stays, including times when hotels and motels might be booked such as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s enshrinement weekend or college graduations, Sears said.

The council is concerned about “bad actors,” Sears said, but the ordinance if too restrictive can “scare away the good actors.”

Lederman said the goals of the ordinance include providing “clear rules and guidelines for those who want to operate them.”

Under the proposed ordinance, property owners would also be required to provide a plan ensuring adequate parking, Lederman said.

There is an initial application fee of $200. Thereafter, the operator must pay an annual registration fee of $100.

Councilors Timothy Allen and Adam Gomez said they want councilors to confer with the code enforcement department to ensure there is sufficient staff to conduct inspections annually.

The ordinance was endorsed by the McKnight and Maple High Six Corners neighborhood councils.

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