Bill advances to ensure rentals can’t be prohibited

February 4, 2019

A bungalow in Bethany that sleeps four and rents for $100 a night on Vacation Rentals By Owner, aka VRBO, is frequently booked — already reserved for more than half of February.

A two-bedroom apartment near downtown, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Memorial Stadium sleeps four for $41 a night, and is usually full-up through Airbnb.

Those and other short-term rentals in Lincoln and around the state, booked on popular internet sites, would be protected in a bill (LB57) advanced Friday to a second round of consideration.

Lincoln has some restrictions on short-term rentals that fall under several ordinances and zoning codes.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld’s bill would keep cities from prohibiting the booking of short-term rentals of residences online, such as those advertised through VRBO and Airbnb.

The bill would allow regulation of the rentals for health and public safety reasons, just as cities pass ordinances and regulations for long-term rentals. For example, the short-term rentals couldn’t house sex offenders or be used for selling illegal drugs or for sexually-oriented business. Cities could regulate noise, nuisances and property maintenance.

And, with the bill, taxes could be collected efficiently and remitted to the communities and state, Morfeld said.

The bill advanced on a 29-1 vote, with some questions from senators about regulation and taxation on the short-term rentals.

This is a growing business and an opportunity for citizens to rent a room, an apartment or their entire residence out for short-term rental — not more than 30 consecutive days, Morfeld said.

In Nebraska last year, there were 46,000 guest arrivals for these short-term rentals, with visitors paying $4.3 million to residence owners and in state and local taxes.

“Airbnb is a service I have personally used numerous times and found it to be safe, efficient, affordable and a fun way to travel and meet people,” Morfeld said. “It is also an important addition to our efforts to expand and promote tourism in Nebraska.”

He said he’s heard from rural participants in Airbnb there aren’t a lot of short-term rental options when an event comes to a smaller Nebraska town, and this allows them to provide lodging when there would not otherwise be places for visitors to stay.

The bill was introduced last year and added to an Urban Affairs Committee omnibus bill (LB873) that was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, after the Legislature adjourned sine die, because it contained an expansion of Nebraska’s land bank system.

Ricketts said in his veto letter that Morfeld’s bill was a provision of LB873 he supported because it would provide clarity on the taxation and regulation of online hosting platforms, such as Airbnb. The bill would have been a valuable and needed addition to Nebraska law, he said.