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Nebraska senators criticize bill limiting Airbnb regulations

By JULIA SHUMWAYApril 13, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill that would prevent cities from passing any regulations that prohibit short-term rentals such as those booked on Airbnb would give hosts who advertise on the app an unfair tax advantage and create safety concerns, said several Nebraska senators who urged their colleagues to kill the measure Thursday.

Senators adjourned for the day without voting on the measure, but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, said he has enough support to force a vote when it next comes up. He said the measure is crucial to let Nebraska residents earn extra income and avoid restrictions passed in cities around the country.

In New York City, for instance, people who rent out apartments for less than 30 days can face fines of $1,000 per unit for listing an apartment on Airbnb. Other cities have zoning codes that prohibit short-term rentals or limit the number of rentals in a neighborhood.

“We have an opportunity here to promote small entrepreneurs in our communities and ensure Nebraska does not shut down tourism,” Larson said.

Airbnb, along with ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, is part of a new “sharing economy” from which Nebraska can benefit, Larson said. It won’t result in out-of-town visitors staying in Omaha neighborhoods every night but would be helpful for major events like the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders conference and College World Series, he said.

But several Omaha-area senators opposed the bill, which they said does little to address safety concerns or ensure that Airbnb users pay into hotel/motel taxes their cities rely on to build tourism and pay municipal bonds.

“We tend to be behind all the time on trends like Uber, like Airbnb, but this is not the bill to address it,” said Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue.

Larson said he will work on an amendment to make clear that Airbnb will collect sales tax and hotel/motel tax when customers book Nebraska homes.

The bill would only let cities pass regulations relating to public safety, including controlling traffic and enforcing fire and building codes. Cities could prohibit a short-term rental only if it housed sex offenders, was a sober living home, sold drugs, sold liquor without a license or operated as a sexually oriented business.

Any other regulations would have to apply to all homes, not just those used as short-term rentals.

Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, who has used Airbnb, said the measure could lead to dangerous situations. He said classmates when he was in high school would rent hotel rooms after prom and get into trouble, but Airbnb lets current high school seniors do more.

“Now you rent a house,” he said. “You can do a short-term rental on a house, and you can be a lot louder and be in a lot more danger.”

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said the bill could allow a person to rent out a home or a room for 30 days, let the tenant stay without paying for one day and then rent it again for 30 days, effectively creating a long-term rental property that isn’t subject to any rules.

“You wind up running a rental property with no regulations,” he said.


Follow Julia Shumway on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JMShumway

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