Tourists looking to crash on peoples’ couches or rent unoccupied living spaces through AirBnB and other “tourist rooming housing” services can rest assured that their renters in Madison now have to follow stricter regulations.

City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday night requiring people who rent space in their homes to tourists to follow certain zoning regulations, such as obtaining a license from the health department, installing smoke detectors in rented rooms and paying a room tax.

“We realized there were problems with the legality of this operation,” Ald. Mark Clear, District 19 said. “I think we wanted to find a way to make it legal and regulate it and address some of the concerns we were hearing.”

Under the new ordinance, owners of “tourist rooming houses,” which the city defines as buildings other than a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or hostel where sleeping accommodations are rented to tourists, may not rent out vacant homes.

To be considered a “tourist rooming house,” the renter must own the property as well as reside in it, according to a city fact sheet.

Joe Sweeney, Director and CEO of 100State, however, said the ordinance could have a negative effect on entrepreneurs, especially those who use or operate websites, such as AirBnB or VRBO, to rent accommodations.

“When looking at Madison, we are a budding entrepreneurial city,” Sweeney said. “We do not want to be seen as this high regulation area. It’s going to deter companies, it’s going to deter entrepreneurs and it’s going to deter visitors from coming to the City of Madison and I don’t think we can afford that as a city.”

Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, said the zoning process is compliance based, meaning the regulations would not necessarily be enforced unless complaints were filed to the city.

Bidar-Sielaff added the regulations are not intended to be punitive, but look to add parameters and rules for the practice of renting accommodations.

Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said though he knew the ordinance would be passed, he hopes the council can come up with new approaches to solving problems in the future. He said the city should work better alongside websites like AirBnB.

“I really hope that we’re able to start talking about solutions and how we can be more creative with our laws,” Resnick said. “And try to pass ordinances that are good pieces of legislation, that we don’t have to worry about compliance levels and that all the stakeholders, even if they disagree, can come to the same table and say ‘yes, this something that Madison can be proud of.’”

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