Elma Sinanovich has been leasing three small condo units at the Kirkwood Hotel in downtown Des Moines as short-term rentals for about two years. 

She’s done so illegally.

Des Moines currently doesn’t allow short-term rentals of houses, apartments or condos. That will change on Dec. 15 when a new zoning code goes into effect. The new code includes short-term rental rules, which has drawn the ire of the owners of short-term rentals such as Sinanovich, who rents her properties through Airbnb, an online rental marketplace.

The city is proposing to cap the number of days an owner can rent his or her property at 120, unless the owner lives on-site. In addition, owners must have a rental certificate and get approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to use the property as a short-term rental. Proposals also include limiting the percentage of multifamily units that can be rented on a short-term basis.

City officials have said they plan to revise the proposed rules in early 2020.

Sinanovich and 30 others voiced concerns about the proposed regulations during a public hearing on Monday.

“Everybody wants regulations,” said Sinanvoch, who operates a fourth short-term rental in another community. “But the regulations have to take care of people who have issues like loud parties and illegal parking, but also allows the people who are not causing problems to do this on a full-time basis without limitations.”

Sinanovich, who employs property managers, estimates she rents her units about 85% of a year. The units in the Kirkwood primarily are rented to business travelers, she said. The suburban house is often rented to families or large groups of people. She recently rented it a group participating in a cheerleading competition.

“The people who are taking care of their properties should be allowed to keep doing it without restricting the number of days they can” rent the property, she said.

Neighbors of short-term rentals, though, want tougher enforcement.

Carlie Hamilton, who lives on Des Moines’ west side, said a house in her neighborhood recently started being rented on a short-term basis. On weekends, the house’s occupants are loud and unruly. 

“We weren’t notified that this was going to happen,” Hamilton said during the hearing. “We should have been. When there’s problems [with renters], we don’t know who to call. 

“In a residential area, you want to know who your neighbors are. … I hope you stick to some pretty strict regulations.”

SuAnn Donovan, Des Moines' neighborhood inspection administrator, estimated the city has at least 300 short-term rentals. She said the number could be higher, but since the city doesn’t regulate the rentals, there is no way of determining the actual number. She said in the past few weeks, she’s gotten complaints about four rentals.

Comments from the public meeting will be shared with city staff and City Council members, Donovan said. She said revisions to the city code will likely be proposed in early 2020.

In the meantime, owners of short-term rental properties should begin the application process for a rental certificate and zoning variance, she said. Short-term rental units that haven’t received either when the new code goes into effect on Dec. 15 risk facing penalties, she said.