Cap on short-term rental units to remain for now, Lawrence City Commission decides

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Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday decided to table a discussion on raising or eliminating the cap on the number of short-term rental units property owners may license in some parts of town.

Following an increase in short-term rental units like Airbnbs in past years, commissioners discussed possibly changing the limitation of how many units can be licensed or owned for that purpose — currently three per person. 


Discussions surrounding the short-term rental industry in Lawrence have been ongoing for years. Tuesday night’s meeting agenda highlighted times when local policy was altered, including in 2020. 

Currently, non-owner occupied short-term residential rental property located within single-dwelling residential and planned development districts is prohibited. This type of property is permitted in all other zoning districts. Right now, there are about 110 short-term rental licenses in good standing, according to the meeting agenda. 

Mayor Lisa Larsen said she brought up the topic to look at the limitations that exist for property owners who would like to use short-term rentals to their benefit. 

“I just want to try not to stand in the way of commercial endeavors that are wanting to use this as a tool in their business decisions,” Larsen said. “So, I just think in the commercial, industrial areas that limiting it to three per owner is not needed.”

Code Official Brian Jimenez said most of the inquiries he receives from the public are centered on the limit of three units, and often include those with residential property. Most people feel they should be able to have more than three, Jimenez said.

With the rise of short-term rentals like Airbnbs in Lawrence, some are concerned with the supply of housing left over for city residents. Commissioner Courtney Shipley discussed the effect on the downtown district and Massachusetts Street. 

“I just want to clarify that as a district, perhaps we did not plan on entirely being taken over by Airbnbs when we’ve spent so much energy trying to make sure people live and move downtown,” Shipley said.

Following further discussion, Commissioner Amber Sellers asked Larsen what she hoped city staff would do in response. Larsen said she wants commercial property owners to have more freedom to do business, which would mean eliminating or increasing the three property rule. 

Resident Sheri Ellenbecker spoke on the effects of short-term rentals during public comment, saying they raise housing costs and rental rates. 

Sellers said it felt counterintuitive to talk about raising the limit now, as the commission had discussed finding solutions to the affordable housing crisis earlier in the evening as part of a work session on the homelessness and housing strategic plan draft.

“I don’t think the time is right for that,” Sellers said. “I think it’s worth being revisited.”

With other commissioners in agreement to move on from the discussion, no conclusion was yet reached to potentially change the unit limitation. 

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Abby Shepherd (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a senior at the University of Kansas studying journalism and political science. She is news editor for The Eudora Times, and worked as the city government reporter there for a year.

Follow her on Twitter. Read her work for the Times at this link.

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