After an Aug. 5 public hearing on regulating short-term rentals or Airbnb’s, the Waunakee Village Board directed staff to bring back the most stringent standards possible.
The direction came after a number of residents living near short-term rentals said they feared for the safety of their neighborhoods and urged the board to enact regulations on them.
Bonnie Koenig, environmental health supervisor with the Madison Dane County Public Health’s Environmental Health Office, was the first to speak at the public hearing. Koenig noted that short-term rentals are licensed and that 700 have been identified with about one-third licensed. Airbnb’s that serve food must obtain additional licenses, and pools must be licensed, as well, she said.
Dane County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Dufferin, the contract deputy for the towns of Westport and Dane, said he finds out about Airbnb’s through neighborhood complaints and said he encourages all communities to regulate them. Dufferin said that Westport Administrator Tom Wilson asked him to speak at the hearing.
“The only way we’re finding out about them is when we get the police calls,” Dufferin said.
“We’ve found some places are being used for party houses, especially in more of the rural areas where they can hide it more,” he said.
Regulations or licensing would allow local police to know where the short-term rentals are.
Crystal Schleifer, an Airbnb operator, provided the board with a Wall Street Journal article indicating that property values actually are benefitted by Airbnb’s and that the guests spend money in the communities they stay in.
Schleifer said she tries to reach out to neighbors, adding that she vets her guests and declines any parties. Most of the guests are traveling for work, she said.
But several neighbors of Airbnb’s described problematic issues. Many said they moved to Waunakee neighborhoods that were safe and friendly.
“When we don’t know who’s living next door, we lose a sense of community,” said Alexis Buchanan. “I’m frightened more houses in my neighborhood will become Airbnb’s. I don’t want to see that happen.”
Colette Bussan said at the Airbnb next door to her, a 50-person wedding was held. She described a “revolving door of strangers” that has caused her family to be “hypervigilant of what’s going on next door,” noting that there were parties in the pool and hot tub.
Village Attorney Bryan Kleinmaier said municipalities have two ways to regulate short-term rentals, through licensing and zoning.
Trustee Joe Zitzelsberg said he sees a spectrum of regulations that can be applied. One would require owner occupancy; another would require a rental of a minimum seven days.
Trustee Phil Willems said he agreed a seven-day minimum for rentals should be applied, saying short-term rentals should be regulated and taxes collected on them.
“These Airbnb’s are undercutting our hotel industry,” he said.
Willems added that the owners should be onsite.
“I also feel uncomfortable if I don’t know who my neighbors are. How we do it is the next thing, and how we check them and police them is another thing.”
Trustee Bill Ranum brought up the size of the rental, noting the difference between renting out a room and an entire house.
Village President Chris Zellner added that he was concerned about only one-third of Airbnb’s being licensed.
“At this point, that’s a failure” he said. “There’s no coordination with law enforcement so they know where they are.”
Any regulations and licensing should be coordinated with the Town of Westport, Kleinmaier told the board. He agreed to draft the strongest regulations he could find for the September Waunakee Plan Commission and Waunakee-Westport Joint Plan Commission meetings.
According to Kleinmaier, Ashwaubenon has a license ordinance to regulate Airbnb’s frequented by those attending Packers games. Mount Horeb has a conditional use permit ordinance.
“Neither of these ordinances are be-all, end-all,” Kleinmaier said, adding that he would research and find the most stringent regulations.
That ordinance could come before the village board at its second meeting of September. The earliest it could be adopted would be October.
The state of Wisconsin recently passed legislation preventing municipalities from prohibiting Airbnb’s. While subdivision covenants may prohibit them, only a neighborhood association can enforce those covenants, Kleinmaier explained. Kleinmaier said he was also unsure whether the village could require a short-term rental to be occupied by the owner at all times it has guests.