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Local Airbnb host isn't going down without a fight

(KOTA)
Published: Jul. 18, 2016 at 12:01 AM CDT
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Donna Gilbert rents out a bedroom in her home to make extra cash through Airbnb, an alternative to hotels for travelers. So far, 166 guests have stayed in Donna's home and they've all left raving reviews.

"Donna was one of the first places we found on there. We sorted it by price and she was one of the cheapest ones on there,” said guest Kayla Grogan.

Although business is good, Gilbert has had some trouble. The City of Rapid City requires a business license for people who operate traditional bed and breakfasts. There are currently no specific regulations for internet or short term rentals.

"These are all the Airbnb users in rapid city that I presented to the council and said you need to address everybody besides me. I am the first and the last Airbnb host to apply for a license," said Donna Gilbert.

She has been denied a business license even though she passed all of the city's regulations.

"The lot size, the parking, the windows, the smoke alarms, everything."

In a letter addressed to city council, neighbors have expressed their concerns about having strange people in their neighborhood or causing a disturbance. According to Gilbert, each Airbnb guest is screened before renting.

"They're not here to cause trouble with my neighbors. That's not their goal. Their goal is to come here, sleep, rest up, move on."

The guests say they chose Gilbert because of her many positive reviews.

"We got to read people's stories about why they were here and the experience they had at her house," said guest Jeff Hanson.

Gilbert says her guests spend most of their time sightseeing and bring a lot of business to the area.

"Another nice part was just being able to park in the garage. We have our own washer and dryer, there's just a lot of small things where you feeling like you're living right here in the city. And you're in a nice neighborhood," said Hanson.

Gilbert is back in business after the city told her to cease operations. She feels that she is being singled out and hopes that the city gives equal treatment to other Airbnb hosts.

"Maybe they're going to fine me for opening up again. So be it,” said Gilbert.

There are currently 184 Airbnb rentals in the Rapid City area. Donna has applied for a state license through the Health Department and has notified the Revenue Department of her reopening.

It was neighbor complaints that led to the City of Rapid City denying a business license for Gilbert’s Airbnb.

But officials tell us the city is taking a look at new ordinances for short-term rentals.

The Planning Commission originally approved a conditional-use permit for Gonna Gilbert, but it was later denied by the city.

At the request of the city council, changes are in the works for short-term rentals and Airbnb's.

"Ms. Gilbert's situation came under the microscope because it was complaint driven. We had some concerns that were issued by neighbors and that was looked at and reviewed by the council, and by the Planning Commission. At the present time, our main focus is on the ordinance change that will be forth coming and again that will impact not only Ms. Gilbert but others who operate bed and breakfasts, Airbnb's, and short-term rentals”, said city spokesman Darrell Shoemaker.

The city council will examine the new proposal Aug. 1.