What it takes to be an Airbnb host in Madison

More than 3,000 people in Wisconsin are welcoming strangers into their home with the short term rental site Airbnb. In Madison alone hosts made a combined $2.5 million, according to Airbnb. Those numbers might have you wondering if you should get in on the action. News 3 spoke to a few local hosts about their experiences and asked a Madison and Dane County health official what it takes to become a licensed host.

If you step into Theresa and Ardis Coffman’s den you see wallpaper that makes up a world map. Look closer and you see more than a hundred tiny pins.

“These are all the pins from the United States, here are the people who have come from Europe, and there are a few from South America and quite a lot from Asia,” said Theresa Coffman, who makes up one half of a mother-daughter team that hosts Airbnb users in their west side home.

“We love to travel, so this way we can just stay at home and the world comes to us,” Ardis Coffman, Theresa’s mother said.

The two rent out a den, bathroom and bedroom that sleeps four. They’ve hosted everyone from students and families to Crossfit champions.

“It’s all over the map. I guess you could say,” Ardis said.

They’ve been on Airbnb for three years making enough money to renovate parts of their home and cover property taxes.

“We run a business together. It is a business, it’s not just a small business it’s a micro business, but it’s a business,” Theresa said.

The city of Madison estimates there are 300 Airbnb hosts in the city. That boom in business is the reason why Public Health of Madison and Dane County hired Donna Magdalina. Magdalina is the short term rental specialist and a big part of her job is to make sure each host is getting the right certifications.

What it takes to be an Airbnb host in Madison

“Having this kind of economy is something that’s new and something the governments are figuring out how to deal with,” she said. “The licensing processes works across five different city and county agencies and what I’m trying to do is make that simple for everybody.”

The cost to operate a short term rental in Madison like an Airbnb is about $557 dollars the first year.

The breakdown is as follows:
$535 for an initial licensing with the city and county, including an inspection.
$20 for a Wisconsin Seller’s Permit
$2 for city of Madison Room Tax Registration Fee
It costs $160 to renew that city and county license each year.

Magdalina said you can get all of it completed in a few days.

“Since I’ve been here everyone who has applied has become licensed ,” she said.

However the number of unlicensed Airbnb hosts are far greater than the number of ones that are. Of the estimated 300 hosts only 55 are licensed including the Coffmans.

There is a penalty fee for not being properly licensed. But Magdalina said they are trying to educate hosts before doling out penalties.

This year the city approved the use of software that is used to track down hosts. So the city will like catch up with those who are not compliant.

Kerri Johanning runs an Airbnb with her husband on the near west side. She said the lack of cooperation creates an unfair market in the city.

“There’s a ton of people who are out there charging a really, really low price and that’s hard on us,” she said.

Also hard is dealing with potential issues of privacy and safety. Johanning said she is always hesitant handing out her WiFi password because of cybersecurity concerns. The keypad lock on her house is also changed after every visit so renters who have checked out can’t get back in again.

“You have to worry, you know are they going in your room? Are they helping themselves to things?,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of things that have gone missing over the years .”

Nevertheless she said she plans to keep hosting.

“We really believe in the city and we believe in helping people,” Johanning said.

A sentiment that’s magnified by the Coffmans.

“I like to talk people into becoming my competition, I’m like you should do this. It’s so much fun,” Theresa said.

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