Des Moines Short Term Rental Regulation: A Guide For Airbnb Hosts

Des Moines, Iowa

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Starting a Short Term Rental Business in Des Moines

Des Moines allows short-term rentals (STRs) like Airbnb and VRBO, but has implemented regulations in recent years to address concerns about neighborhood impacts. In 2020, the Des Moines City Council approved an ordinance updating the rules for STRs in the city.

The growing presence of short-term rentals has raised questions for Des Moines and other cities across Iowa about how to regulate the emerging industry. Like ride-sharing services, city officials are grappling with how to oversee this new business model.

While Des Moines has been slower than some cities to update its code, the city has taken steps to strengthen oversight of short-term rentals in response to some conflicts that have arisen in residential areas. Complaints from neighbors about issues like noise, parking, and high turnover of guests at STR properties prompted the city to act.

The city aims to balance the economic opportunity for hosts with protections for neighborhood character and quality of life. Officials want to ensure STRs don't negatively impact housing availability and affordability for long-term residents.

Des Moines' STR ordinance was the result of an extensive stakeholder engagement process that included input from hosts, neighbors, housing advocates, and industry representatives. The regulations attempt to find a middle ground that allows STRs to operate while mitigating potential downsides.

Key provisions include a permitting system, density restrictions, occupancy limits, parking requirements, and tax collection. The goal is to integrate STRs into the fabric of Des Moines neighborhoods without overwhelming residential areas or depleting needed housing stock.

Short Term Rental Licensing Requirement in Des Moines

All short-term rentals in Des Moines must acquire a rental certificate and be approved by the city's board of adjustment. Property owners are allowed to operate as a short-term rental for five years before needing to secure an ongoing license.

To gain approval, STR operators need to meet certain requirements like providing sufficient off-street parking, following occupancy limits based on the number of bedrooms, and agreeing to inspections. Density restrictions also prohibit STRs from operating within 700 feet of another licensed property, unless grandfathered in.

The licensing process involves submitting an application with supporting documentation to the city's Neighborhood Inspection Zoning Division.

Inspectors then schedule a site visit to ensure the property is up to code and compliant with all STR regulations.

Applicants must pay a $250 fee and provide proof of insurance, parking plan, occupancy limits, and 24/7 contact information. Owners living on-site can apply for a long-term permit, while off-site owners are capped at 120 rental days per year.

Permits must be prominently displayed inside the STR unit along with emergency contact info and a copy of the city's noise ordinance. Hosts are also required to maintain a guest log and provide it to city officials upon request.

Required Documents for Des Moines Short Term Rentals

To register a short-term rental, owners must provide:

  • Name, address, email, tax ID, and phone number of the owner and property manager
  • Floorplan of the rental unit showing locations used for sleeping
  • Proof of insurance with $500,000 minimum liability coverage
  • Guest registration records with each guest's name, address, signature, driver's license, and dates of stay
  • Parking plan showing the location and number of off-street spaces
  • Proof of payment of hotel/motel taxes and property taxes

Hosts must keep all records on file for at least three years and make them available to city officials upon request. Failure to maintain proper documentation can result in fines or revocation of the STR permit.

The city also requires hosts to notify neighbors within 200 feet of the property before applying for a permit. This gives residents an opportunity to voice any concerns or objections to the STR.

Once all paperwork is submitted, the Zoning Division reviews the application and conducts an on-site inspection. If everything is in order, the permit is issued and the STR can begin operating. Renewals must be submitted at least 30 days before the permit expiration date.

Des Moines Short Term Rental Taxes

Short-term rental operators are required to collect and pay:

  • Iowa Hotel and Motel Tax of 5% on the listing price
  • Local Hotel and Motel Tax, which varies by locality but is typically 2-7%
  • Property taxes on the rental unit

Proof of tax payments must be shown within 15 days if requested by the city. Airbnb collects and remits the state hotel tax for reservations made through their platform, but hosts are responsible for assessing all other tax obligations.

It's important for hosts to consult with a tax professional to ensure they are in full compliance with all applicable lodging tax laws at the state and local level. Failure to properly assess and remit taxes can lead to significant penalties.

Des Moines also requires STR operators to obtain a sales tax permit from the Iowa Department of Revenue. This allows the city to track and audit tax payments to ensure proper collection.

Some hosts have complained that the tax requirements are overly burdensome, especially for those only renting out their property occasionally. But city officials argue that STRs should be subject to the same taxes as traditional hotels to level the playing field.

Des Moines-wide Short Term Rental Rules

  • Rentals are limited to a single party of individuals and must include one or more adults aged 21+
  • Maximum occupancy is limited by the city's property maintenance code based on bedroom count
  • No more than one STR allowed per single-family home, and it must be the owner or tenant's primary residence
  • Owners must provide an information packet to guests with emergency contacts, parking rules, trash schedule, occupancy limits
  • Quiet hours are in effect from 10pm to 7am
  • Owners must provide annual notice to neighbors within 200 feet of the STR property
  • Rentals are capped at 120 days per year unless the owner lives on-site
  • STRs must be located at least 700 feet apart unless grandfathered in

These regulations are meant to prevent STRs from overtaking residential neighborhoods and ensure they remain compatible with the surrounding community. Violations can result in fines, permit revocation, and legal action by the city.

The 120-day cap has been one of the most controversial provisions, with some hosts arguing it unfairly limits their ability to earn rental income. But supporters say it strikes a balance between allowing STRs and preserving long-term housing stock.

The primary residence requirement is also designed to prevent investor-owned STRs from proliferating and changing the character of neighborhoods. By requiring the owner or a long-term tenant to live on-site, the city hopes to ensure STRs remain an ancillary use rather than a full-time commercial operation.

Does Des Moines strictly enforce STR rules?

Compared to some cities, Des Moines has been slower to update its city code to regulate and tax short-term rentals. However, the city has taken steps in recent years to strengthen oversight, prompted by some neighborhood conflicts over STRs.

Still, many hosts continue to operate STRs in Des Moines. Bigger Pockets forums indicate the city is not aggressively cracking down on Airbnb activity, and the short-term rental market remains fairly robust, with over 500 active listings.

Overall, Des Moines takes a moderate approach - allowing STRs with reasonable regulations. The city aims to balance the economic opportunity for hosts with protections for neighborhood character and quality of life. Active enforcement has increased following the 2020 ordinance changes, but is still limited compared to the strictest cities.

The Neighborhood Inspection Division responds to complaints about problem properties and can issue fines or revoke permits for repeat offenders. But proactive enforcement is constrained by limited resources and the rapid growth of STR listings.

Hosts can stay on the right side of the law by carefully following all regulations, keeping good records, communicating with neighbors, and promptly addressing any issues that arise. Building positive relationships with guests and the surrounding community is key to successful STR operation.

Some critics argue that Des Moines is not doing enough to rein in "bad actors" who flout the rules and cause persistent nuisances. They would like to see more aggressive enforcement and stiffer penalties for violations.

But city officials say they are working to find the right balance and adapt to the evolving STR landscape. They note that the vast majority of hosts are responsible and compliant, and that STRs can provide valuable economic benefits if properly managed.

As the market matures, Des Moines will likely continue to fine-tune its approach, with input from all affected stakeholders. The goal is to foster a sustainable, equitable STR ecosystem that works for hosts, guests, neighbors, and the city as a whole.

How to Start a Short Term Rental Business in Des Moines

  • Review the city's short-term rental ordinance and zoning code to understand all requirements
  • Prepare your property to meet safety and habitability standards
  • Obtain necessary permits, inspections, and insurance
  • Register with the city and provide all required documentation
  • Determine your pricing and create a listing on sites like Airbnb or VRBO
  • Establish processes for screening guests, handling check-in, cleaning, maintenance
  • Provide guests with required info on parking, trash, city rules, emergency contacts
  • Maintain good communication with guests and neighbors to avoid conflicts
  • Collect and pay applicable taxes on time
  • Keep registration and permits up to date and renew as required

It's advisable to consult with legal and tax professionals to ensure your STR business is fully compliant with all relevant laws. Partnering with an experienced STR property manager can also help navigate the complexities of local regulations.

Before investing in an STR property, carefully research the local market conditions, regulatory environment, and potential return on investment. Look for neighborhoods with amenities that appeal to travelers and avoid areas with high concentrations of existing STRs.

Consider starting small with a single listing to test the waters and refine your hosting approach. Solicit feedback from guests and neighbors to continuously improve the experience and maintain positive relationships.

As your STR business grows, stay informed about any changes to local laws or tax requirements that could affect your operation. Join local host groups or industry associations to share knowledge and advocate for fair, effective policies.

With careful planning, compliance, and a commitment to being a good neighbor, an STR can be a rewarding venture in Des Moines. But it's important to understand the responsibilities and challenges involved in this rapidly evolving industry.

Who to contact in Des Moines about Short Term Rental Regulations and Zoning?

For questions about STR rules, registration, inspections and complaints, contact:

Des Moines Neighborhood Inspection Zoning Division
Argonne Armory – 1st Floor
602 Robert D Ray Drive
Des Moines, IA 50309
Phone: (515) 283-4046

The Zoning Division is responsible for reviewing all STR applications, conducting property inspections, issuing permits, and investigating any violations. They work closely with other city departments to monitor STR activity and enforce regulations.

Hosts can also find helpful information and resources on the city's website, including application forms, checklists, and FAQs. The site provides an overview of the STR ordinance and clearly outlines the responsibilities of permit holders.

For questions about taxes, contact:

Iowa Department of Revenue
PO Box 10457
Des Moines, IA 50306-0457
Phone: 1-800-367-3388

The Department of Revenue administers the state lodging tax and can provide guidance on sales tax permits and filing requirements for STR operators.

What do Airbnb hosts in Des Moines on Reddit and Bigger Pockets think about local regulations?

  • "Personally, I love STR's in this area and they are currently outperforming long-term rents. One thing to keep in mind as well is the legal side of STR's in the DSM area. Some laws have been put in place, but overall STR's are not top of mind to the city."
  • "The growing presence of short-term rentals has raised questions for Des Moines, Waukee, West Des Moines and other cities across Iowa. Like Uber and other new business models, city officials are grappling with how to regulate the emerging industry."
  • "I have yet to have a conversation with an investor who owns or manages a STR that has done 'bad' in the DSM area."
  • "Des Moines, unlike some other cities, has yet to update city code to regulate, enforce or tax short-term rentals like Airbnb, Couchsurfing and VRBO. But as more of those rentals pop up around the metro — and conflicts arise — city officials say that hands-off approach will likely change."
  • "I think DSM is a great market for STRs. The key is to know the rules and be a responsible host. Work with your neighbors, keep the property in good shape, and don't try to skirt the regulations. The city seems reasonable overall."
  • "The new ordinance is not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. We need some guardrails to prevent STRs from running amok and causing problems. But a total ban would be an overreaction. There has to be a middle ground."
  • "I've been operating an STR in Des Moines for 3 years now with no major issues. I make sure to follow all the rules, pay my taxes, and keep open lines of communication with my neighbors. It can be a lot of work, but it's worth it for the extra income."
  • "The 120-day cap is really frustrating and I think it's arbitrary. If I'm being a responsible operator and my property is in compliance, why should I be limited in how often I can rent it out? The city should focus on going after the real problem properties."

So while hosts acknowledge the evolving regulatory landscape, many continue to see strong potential in the Des Moines market. The city seems open to working with STR operators who follow the established rules, but is also responding to concerns from residents with targeted oversight measures. Staying on top of local ordinance changes is important for hosts.

Reveal your property’s rental profitability

Buy this property and list it on Airbnb.