Burlington has been working on a city ordinance for short-term rental properties — the rental property listings found within online marketplaces like Airbnb or Vrbo — since 2019. However, the Queen City still doesn’t have a legal definition of just what they are.

The regulations that owners of short-term rental units need to follow are also somewhat vague. The City Council’s Ordinance Committee met Wednesday night as part of an effort to provide clarity.

Burlington is proposing to define a short-term rental unit as “…a dwelling unit that is rented in whole or in part to guests for less than 30 consecutive days and for more than 14 days per calendar year.” Outside of a very narrow list of exceptions, short-term rentals on a property that is not the host’s primary residence would be banned.

The Queen City’s permitting and inspections director told the committee that some information already exists that could be used to help determine if hosts are complying.

“We’ve had someone declare something was their primary residence, and we looked at where they registered their vehicles,” Bill Ward said. “We looked at what their primary address was for where they registered to vote — and that was not their address.”

Hosts would have to join the same rental registry Burlington landlords are on and would paying the same registration fee of $110 per unit. Short-term rental units would also be subject to annual inspections to ensure they meet standards including fire safety, electrical safety and cleanliness.

One woman wanted the committee to remember that short-term units are less than 2% of Burlington’s total rental market.

“(University of Vermont) students make up a large majority of Burlington’s renters,” Deb Ward Lyons said. “Although Burlington has no power to insist that UVM build and require juniors to live on campus — which is what I think should happen — UVM is instead considering building housing for grad and medical students.”

It’ll likely be known later this spring, or in early summer, how governance of short-term rental units will look.

“We do have direction from the (full City) Council to report back to them on or by June 1, so we’ll need to schedule another meeting of the Ordinance Committee,” Councilor Ben Traverse said.

Burlington Zoning Division manager Scott Gustin also noted that city staff should be able to specify in writing, within the next two weeks, changes they’d like to see to the current proposal. If they do, the Ordinance Committee will be able to meet again and work on the desired changes before June 1.