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St. Louis proposes Airbnb rules, joining other communities with restrictions

The Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline is seen from a C-21 jet on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, while flying over the Mississippi River.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline is seen from a C-21 jet in October. The city is proposing new rules for short-term rentals like those listed on Airbnb and Vrbo.

St. Louis may soon have new rules for people who run short-term rentals within the city.

A bill introduced to the Board of Aldermen last week would establish regulations for those listings that appear on Airbnb, Vrbo and other platforms.

“The City of St. Louis is one of the few municipalities in the region without any regulations for short-term rentals,” said board President Megan Green. “We know these are pretty prevalent throughout our community.”

Green cites more than a thousand listings in St. Louis’ downtown, with hundreds more in the Central West End and Solulard neighborhoods.

“We’re finding that some of these short-term rentals, if not managed appropriately, can be harmful for the housing market for residents who live in our city,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re providing some regulations for the health and safety of residents.”

Green points to incidents in whichteenagers have been shot outside Airbnb locations in the city and examples of residents lodging multiple complaints about specific properties.

The proposed rules before the board are intended to curb these issues by requiring all short-term rentals be permitted by the city. Hosts would also need to obtain a business license if the unit they’re renting out is not their primary residence.

“Getting that permit is really aligned with a lot of other business practices that we have in the city,” Green said. “We would also require operators to designate a contact person who would be responsive and available at all times.”

The bill also limits an individual to four short-term rental unit permits if they are applying for units they do not live in.

Aldermen are motivated to establish new regulations, because they’ve heard many concerns from residents about short-term rentals, Green said.

“It’s very important to get some regulations in place so that when there is a nuisance complaint, it’s easier for the city to take quick action,” she said. “If we have the ability to rescind a permit, stop their ability to do business quicker, then I think it can shut down some of these problem properties.”

St. Louis joins other communities in the region that are establishing or updating rules for these kinds of properties. St. Charles recently passed a one-year moratorium on new short-term rental permits.

Members of that city council had heard from residents who were concerned about Airbnbs popping up in heavily residential neighborhoods, said Mary West, St. Charles Ward 4 councilwoman, who sponsored the measure.

“They tell me, ‘I don’t want one next to my home,’ and I agree with them,” she said. “I don’t, either.”

St Charles’ new rules don’t affect existing rentals, especially those that are close to the city’s historic downtown, West added. “We’ve got a lot and they’re very popular and successful, which I’m happy for that,” she said. “Just don’t bring them out in my ward.”

It will be important for hosts across the St. Louis region to pay attention to updates to short-term rental rules, said Pam Knudsen, senior director of compliance services at Avalara. That company handles remittance of taxes that are collected in various transactions, including short-term rentals.

“Whoever has the short-term rental is going to need to look at all of that and be in compliance,” she said. “It’s a shift for them, it’s going to be something they’ll have to be aware of, and then they have to follow those rules.”

Knudsen also cautions communities against enacting rules that are heavy-handed as short-term rentals can become a scapegoat for other challenges in the community.

“What’s the problem that we’re trying to solve, is this regulation going to solve that problem?” she said. “That’s the holistic point of view that I encourage communities to take a look at.”

These kinds of properties can generate taxes for a community and support businesses that provide services like house cleaning and landscaping, she said. It’s also important that a city has a way to enforce the regulations, Knudsen said.

“If a regulation just sends people underground and you don’t have a way to look at this and help with this, then are you solving the problem that you’re trying to solve?” she said.

The bill in St. Louis is still in early phases, having been referred to the Transportation and Commerce Committee, where there will be hearings in the coming weeks, Green said.

“That will be the opportunity for the public to weigh in, either by attending a hearing or by sending written comment or testimony about the bills,” she said. “We have to look at the current legislation as a work in progress, and as we hear more from the public about what they want to see in these bills, we can make those modifications.”

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.