Iowans Offer Unique Vacation Rentals as Cities Discuss Regulations

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowans are turning their homes into hotels, offering the Iowa nice hospitality and a unique experience. Iowans earned $9.3 million in 2018 through Airbnb, and Polk County hosts took in $2.4 million of that.

Visit Beaverdale, and you can’t miss the unique round houses. Micole Van Walbeek said, "I've always admired when I drove through Beaverdale the little round houses."

She bought one on Urbandale Avenue last fall and turned it into a home away from home. “People are coming to Des Moines to stay, and we thought it would be fun to give them a little place to stay,” she said.

It’s called The Little Round House, and inside you’ll find bright colors and a statement wall. "My hope is that people would take selfies in front of it, and then post it on social media," said Van Walbeek.

You can the rent two-bedroom house for $85 to $105 a night. "You basically have a whole house to yourself," said Van Walbeek.

The little round house isn't alone. You'll find dozens of Des Moines homes on vacation rental sites.

Eric and Jenny Quiner offer an Urban Farm Stay off Meredith Drive. “The home was built in the early 1900s," said Jenny.

"We actually bought the old farm hand's house from the Meredith family farms years ago. So, it’s kind of cool that we now have a little small farming operation surrounding the house yet again," added Eric.

The property is home to Dog Patch Urban Gardens, which is where Jenny grows and sells produce at a farm stand May through November.

Travelers can check in to the home, which sleeps 10, for $79 to $150 a night.

"Truly, people get to have the city amenities but feel like you're in a rural environment surrounded by crops and food," said Jenny.

Both hosts said you need to do your research before starting a short-term vacation rental. Cities have been talking about ordinances related to this the past few years and regulations vary. The Urban Farm Stay is in unincorporated Polk County, where there are currently no restrictions.

It is a little complicated in the City of Des Moines, which is where the Little Round House is located.

"Currently it's not legal. They would be treated under the state law as a hotel because the stays are less than 30 days. Most of them are in residential areas, so they are not zoned for commercial use, which is what a hotel room would be," said SuAnn Donovan, Neighborhood Inspections Zoning Administrator.

Donovan said city staff members are currently rewriting the zoning ordinance for Des Moines. Right now, they handle rentals less than 30 days long on a complaint basis. They have had four in the last 18 months.

Donovan said, "Mostly it's if the occupants become unruly or get loud, have parties. Sometimes it's parking issues."

As for other metro cities, West Des Moines allows short term rentals if the homeowner is there during the stay. The same is true for Altoona. You also need a conditional use permit there. Ankeny and Johnston don't have specific ordinances for short term rentals, but you do need to be registered in Johnston.

Short term rentals are also allowed in Pleasant Hill and Waukee, but both cities plan to discuss the issue in the coming months.

Des Moines hopes to have a draft by April or May. Donovan said, "I think we want to allow Airbnbs, but we need to regulate them so we know where they're at, how many we have, and that we just have a control over them."

As for the Quiners, their urban farm stay was booked 80 percent of the time in 2018 and is a way to add profit and diversify the farm. "We've been very happy with how this has worked out for us," said Jenny.

The Little Round House was booked all but five days in February. It's too soon to turn a profit, but Van Walbeek says it's getting there. "I think the opportunity is really great. I don't think we're doing this for the money. I think we're doing this to have a unique property in the Beaverdale area."

Guests will need to keep in mind a few things when staying at a vacation rental. In addition to the nightly rate, a cleaning fee is also charged. Plus, guests pay the Iowa Hotel and Motel Tax, which is five percent of the listing price and any fees. And, you pay the Local Hotel and Motel Tax, which is two to seven percent of the price.

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