Madison May Tighten Enforcement for Airbnb Operators


Seeking better administration and tighter enforcement, Madison may soon require operators of Airbnb rentals and other tourist rooming houses to get annual permits.

Alds. Patrick Heck, Arvina Martin and Shiva Bidar on Tuesday will propose an ordinance to require Airbnb and other rooming house operators to get the permits. The move is intended to address city staff challenges in enforcing tourist rooming house regulations that require a public health licensepaying room taxes and compliance with zoning rules.

In its zoning, the city requires that a tourist rooming house must be the operator’s primary residence and that an operator may only rent the housing for 30 days per calendar year when not present. The rules are supposed to ensure operators are there most of the time and prevent investors from buying property for the sole purpose of renting out the entire unit.

When operators are absent, there is less oversight of the property, city officials said.

Increasingly, the city is finding situations where operators don’t understand or purposely mislead city staff on whether a specific dwelling unit used as a rooming house is a primary residence, the proposed ordinance says. Some operators fail to keep a guest registry or are reluctant to share it, and others appear to be buying or leasing properties for the sole purpose of renting as tourist housing, it says.

“If people are wiling to lie, it’s pretty easy for them to get away with it,” said Heck, 2nd District. “There have been a couple of these that have gotten out of hand.”

Meanwhile, prospective operators have voiced confusion over which city regulations apply and who is responsible for enforcement of rules, which were adopted in 2013, the proposed ordinance says.

Currently, three agencies — Public Health Madison and Dane County, the Treasurer’s Office, and the city zoning administrator — oversee distinct regulations, which can involve noncompliance, and problems with noise, partying and parking in neighborhoods.

“Right now, it’s kind of tricky,” Environmental Health Division director Doug Voegeli said. “We’ve got three different agencies concentrating on three different areas.”

The $100 annual permit is intended to centralize requirements in one place and strengthen protections for neighborhoods, assistant city attorney John Strange said.

“It’s all about making sure the city knows what’s going on at these rentals,” Heck said.

Read more here.

Written by Dean Mosiman for


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