The Billings City Council heard an update on Project Re:Code at its Monday meeting from city Zoning Coordinator Nicole Cromwell.
Cromwell said even though you can find hundreds of short-term rentals in Billings on Airbnb, all are technically not allowed under the current zoning code.
“Right now in our code, you have to read about four different parts of it to understand that these just aren’t allowed in our residential districts," Cromwell said. "People still do it."
Drafts for the code that governs short-term rentals have been created and will go to the City Council and Yellowstone County Commission in the near future.
Under new rules, the property owner operating a short term rental would have to register with the city, and update the registration yearly. The yearly renewal gives the city the power to tell problematic short term land lords they can't operate again.
“If there are problems and complaints about the guests, we have the right not to renew that,” Cromwell said.
Another new rule aims to keep the current character of the Billings neighborhoods and keep affordable housing available to more people. The rule is the home must be occupied by the property owner or long-term tenant for at least 30 days.
Cromwell mentioned how other cities have seen a decrease in available affordable housing and an increase in largely unoccupied short-term rentals.
“We want to make sure that this is not going to cause problems in our neighborhoods and overwhelm or overtake our affordable housing stock in our neighborhoods, which has happened in other cities," Cromwell said. “They have found a significant decrease in affordable housing products because people say ‘oh, I can make a fortune as an Airbnb. What do I need to be a real landlord for.’”
This rule would also make the owner available to contact for renters or neighbors who encounter problems.
The new short-term rental regulations would not supersede subdivision or homeowners association covenants already established with property owners.
“We can’t make regulation that allows somebody to violate those," Cromwell said.
As the gears continue to turn on Project Re:Code, more new drafts will head to public hearings before the city council and county commission in February or March.
The new codes are scheduled for adoption in May.