Airbnb in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: How to get started

Milwaukee, Wisconsin by night. (Wikimedia/Dori photograph)
Downtown Milwaukee by night. (Wikimedia/Dori photograph)

Cities around the world are dealing with the rise of the modern shared economy in different ways. Some are embracing it wholeheartedly, while others are putting in suffocating restrictions. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a great way to start making a little extra cash is by using Airbnb.

The City of Milwaukee is an interesting example. Originally, it decided to ban Airbnb and other forms of short-term rentals completely. However, a recent reversal at the Wisconsin state level prevented cities and municipalities within the State of Wisconsin from enacting such rules and regulations – something cities like Toronto, Ottawa and others should take note of!

Wisconsin has not only regulated this housing tend, but its governmental agencies have put out well-written and simplified guidance for Airbnb and short-term rental operators to follow with respect to sales, lodging and income taxes.

In short, unless you make less than $1,000 a year through Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), HomeAway, or another such service, you are required to register, collect and pay sales and lodging taxes. For more detailed info, visit this guidance paper.

In addition to certain tax-related guidance, there are other things to keep in mind when looking into the short-term rental business. For example, insurance. Wisconsin state law requires that you inform your insurer ahead of time if there is some sort of the change in coverage. Your decision to rent a room, or your full house, for a short period might constitute such a change. So it’s best to give your insurer a call before you start. For more information, check out this guidance paper.

In general, though, Airbnb and short-term rental operations are allowed within the greater Milwaukee area. However, there are implications that you should consider as an operator to keep the authorities happy. Here are a few things you might want to think about when starting out your Airbnb in Milwaukee:

Property exits

If you are Airbnb-ing in an apartment building or a condominium, it’s likely that these are already addressed according to the standards. However, if you are converting a space in your house such as a basement, attic, or an apartment above your garage, you may want to give these some considerations. In general, if you are only hosting two people at a time, one exit will suffice. However, if the space is designed to host more than eight people, then there should be more than one exit. However, you should consult a licensing specialist, or a building inspector in the municipality to be sure.

Door locks

Governments at all levels are generally cautious about people’s safety and security – and so they should be. One concern with keys and door locks is the safety of future guests, in case a previous guest had copied the key during their stay. So it’s important to plan your operations to change or rotate keys regularly.

You may also want to consider digital and technology solutions such as BuzzerBoy, or August Smart Lock to simplify your locking issue. Buzzerboy automates your apartment’s lobby door using voice recognition. Guests are given a passcode – which is an English word – and they must say this word correctly for the door to open. In addition, you can use the BuzzerBoy app to simply change the passcode in real time, whenever you want. It’s a great little tool to help ensure safety and security, and to simplify your key-drop process.

Proper garbage disposal

When it comes to Airbnb and short-term rentals, the less reason you can give your neighbours to be annoyed, the better it is for you. So, it’s important to think about smelly garbage and waste and how to deal with it when you have guests staying for short periods. Sometimes, you can hire a company to pick up your garbage, or you can take it yourself to the local dump. If you’re stacking garbage until your city picks it up according to its regular schedule, you might be risking a poor rating from guests or annoying your neighbours.

Fire extinguishers and fire alarm systems

This is particularly important, and in fact a requirement for hosting families on Airbnb. There are some easy-to-purchase products on Amazon to help keep you covered.

These are some of the things you might want to think about. However, the best place to start is by contacting your local licensing authority. Here is some contact information for Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection:

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 608-224-4923