Guest Lodging

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Ames' GUEST LODGING regulations are now effective!

Anyone advertising or operating an Airbnb in Ames, must have a Guest Lodging License!

Advertising and bookings must align with the conditions of your License
and the restrictions of how many adults you are allowed to legally accommodate.  


Link or Download:

Summary Tables
Frequently Asked Questions
Fire & Safety Checklist
Guest Lodging Code - Chapter 35, Ames Municipal Code
Rental Housing Registration
Look up Property Zoning and Legal Description (Beacon)



Special Use Permit for Guest Lodging Application (required for Bed & Breakfast Establishments, Vacation Lodging)
Guest Lodging as an Accessory Use License Application (for Hosted Home Share, Home Share, Apartment Share)
Guest Lodging as a Principal Use License Application (for Bed & Breakfast Establishment, Vacation Lodging)



Guest Lodging Types as an Accessory Use

Summary Table- Accessory Use 10-18-19 cropped


Guest Lodging Types as a Principal Use

Summary Table- Principal Use 10-18-19 cropped




Q: What is Guest Lodging?

A:   Guest Lodging is the advertising, offering, or otherwise making available use of a home (house, apt) or a room in a home for overnight lodging for a period of thirty-one (31) consecutive days or less in exchange for money, goods, labor, or service. Guest Lodging does not include hotels or motels. Guest Lodging is commonly referred to as an “Airbnb,” one of the many online platforms used for advertising such units.

Q: Are there different types of Guest Lodging in Ames?

A:   Yes. There are two categories of Guest Lodging in Ames, each with three variations/types:

  • Accessory Use: The home is the primary residence of the owner/renter and the guest lodging use is incidental to the primary use of the dwelling as a home for the primary residents.
    • Hosted Home Share (owner present)
    • Home Share (owner, limited absence)
    • Apartment Share (tenant present)

  • Principal Use: The home is used as a business. Other than the owner/operator of the bed and breakfast, these dwellings have no permanent residents.
    • Bed & Breakfast Establishment
    • Vacation Lodging - Single or Two-Family
    • Vacation Lodging - Apartment

Principal Uses require more review than Accessory Uses. Principal Uses may also require a Letter of Compliance with the Rental Code and/or a Special Use Permit BEFORE an application can be made for the Guest Lodging license. [A Letter of Compliance is a document issued by the Inspection Division, stating the premises have been inspected and have been found to be in compliance with the Rental Housing Code (Ames Municipal Code, Chapter 13), on the date of inspection.]

Q: How do I compare the differences so I know which type applies to my situation?

A:   Please refer to the Summary Tables to compare the differences between different types of Guest Lodging options that can be licensed in Ames.

How a proposed Guest Lodging unit is classified depends upon:

  • Whether or not the dwelling is a primary residence
  • Whether the entire dwelling or only a portion is offered as Guest Lodging
  • The zoning of the property
  • The number of approved guest rooms
  • Parking

Q: How do I know what my property Zoning is?

A:   The Story County Beacon website has a wealth of information about your property, including the Zoning and Legal Description. It is a good place to start.



Q: What is required to offer Guest Lodging?

A:   A Guest Lodging license. A license is valid for one year from the date it is issued. Licenses are issued in the property owner’s name. Each dwelling unit must be licensed individually.

Q: If a home is currently registered as a rental property, does it require a separate approval to offer Guest Lodging?

 A: Yes. Even if a home is currently registered as a rental property, it will require a Guest Lodging license in order to offer Guest Lodging (such as Airbnb).

Q: What is the application fee for a Guest Lodging license?

A:   The application fee has been set by the City Council at $50. This applies to the remainder of this 2019-2020 budget year. The fee is non-refundable.

Q: Are neighbors notified of a proposed Guest Lodging application?

A:   No. Neighbors are not notified of Guest Lodging applications. Certain types of Guest Lodging, however, require a Special Use Permit prior to applying for the Guest Lodging application. As part of the Special Use Permit process, neighboring property owners within 200 feet are notified of public hearings before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. A sign is also posted on the subject property indicating a proposed zoning action.

Q: Am I required to obtain a Rental Letter of Compliance to receive a Guest Lodging license?

A:   A Letter of Compliance is required only for the type of Guest Lodging known as “Vacation Lodging.” The Letter of Compliance is required prior to applying for the Guest Lodging license.

All Guest Lodging applications are required to have a Fire and Safety Inspection. The inspection process verifies compliance with the requirements of the Guest Lodging Code and are included on the Fire and Safety Checklist, which is part of the application packet.

Q: What are the Parking and Occupancy Requirements?

A:   The required parking and limitations on occupancy vary with each type of Guest Lodging. Please refer to the Summary Tables to compare the options available.

Q: Am I required to make parking improvements to receive a Guest Lodging license?

A:   Possibly. The required parking for a license varies with each type of Guest Lodging and parking limitations may limit the Guest Lodging occupancy. Parking must comply with the dimensional, location, and surfacing requirements of Zoning Ordinance, Section 29.406. Front yard parking is prohibited. Please contact the City of Ames Planning & Housing Department at (515) 239-5400 with any questions about existing parking and planned new parking areas.

Q: What constitutes a primary residence?

A:   A primary residence is the only place where a person has a true, fixed, and permanent home, and to where, whenever the person is briefly and temporarily absent, the person intends to return. A person may have only one primary residence.

Acceptable forms of primary residence status include a driver’s license/state-issued identification, utility bill, or recent piece of addressed mail (within 3 months) matching that of the name and address on the application.

Q: What if I operate a Guest Lodging (short-term lodging) unit without a license?

A:   It is illegal to advertise or operate a Guest Lodging unit without a license. Any such violation may be enforced as a municipal infraction by the Enforcement Officer. The penalty for the first violation is up to $500, with each subsequent violation $750.

Q: What if I do not comply with the terms of my Guest Lodging license?

A:   It is illegal to operate a Guest Lodging unit in a way that was not approved at time of licensure. If you operate inconsistent with the approval you are subject to revocation and fines.  Should you need to change the terms of your Guest Lodging license, please contact the City of Ames Planning & Housing Department at (515) 239-5400 or

Q: May I transfer my Guest Lodging license to a new owner or to another property?

A:   No. The Guest Lodging license is issued in the name of the property owner for a particular, addressed dwelling unit. It is not transferable to a subsequent owner or to another property. Having a license does not guarantee an applicant will receive another license for the same property or at another property.

Q: I am in a Homeowners’ Association that prohibits Guest Lodging (short-term lodging). May I use my dwelling as Guest Lodging if I receive a license from the City of Ames?

A:   A Guest Lodging License does not override any lease agreements, homeowners’ association bylaws, covenants, deed restrictions, or any other agreements, laws or regulations that prohibit subletting or use of your dwelling for Guest Lodging (short-term lodging). The City of Ames strongly recommends that you review your homeowners’ association documents and/or contact your homeowners’ association before submitting any form or application to the City for Guest Lodging.

Q: Can both units in a two-family (duplex) building be licensed for Guest Lodging?

A:   No. Only one unit per parcel may be licensed for Guest Lodging. The other unit may, however, be rented if compliant with the Rental Housing Code and registered with the Inspections Division.

Q: I am a tenant, not the property owner. May I use my apartment dwelling for Guest Lodging?

A:   Yes. If you are the tenant of an apartment dwelling, you may participate in offering an “Apartment Share.” All applications require the signature of the property owner or authorized agent and are issued in the name of the owner/agent. Review your lease and/or contact your lessor to determine if the property owner will allow an Apartment Share.

Q: What does a property owner need to do to offer Guest Lodging in a dwelling unit that is not a primary residence?

A:   This type of Guest Lodging is termed “Vacation Lodging.” A Vacation Lodging unit is not the owner’s primary residence and the entire dwelling unit is made available for Guest Lodging.

A Letter of Compliance and a Special Use Permit is required prior to applying for the Guest Lodging license. In some higher density zoning districts, the property owner of an apartment dwelling may be exempt from the Special Use Permit requirement.

However, please note: Receiving a Special Use Permit does not ensure licensing! The final determination of whether all licensing requirements have been met is made during the processing of the actual Guest Lodging license application.

Q: What is the 1000-foot separation requirement?

A:    The 1000-foot separation is applied only to single-family and two-family Vacation Lodging units in specific residential zoning districts. The distance is measured from the property line and is calculated through the City of Ames’ Geographic Information System (GIS). The separation does not apply in commercial or higher density zoning districts.A graphic example of this application can be seen here. The distance is not limited to a zoning district but is measured across applicable zoning districts.

Per City Council direction, the ordinance includes an initial exemption period for certain properties having a valid Letter of Compliance issued prior to October 1, 2019. Additionally, the property owner must submit a complete application for a Vacation Lodging Special Use Permit between December 1-16, 2019, and the property owner must apply for the Guest Lodging License within 30 days of the ZBA approval of the Special Use Permit. The proposed exemption may terminate if the Guest Lodging license for the unit has been suspended, revoked, or lapsed.

Q: Can a single-family or two-family unit be licensed now as a Vacation Lodging unit without using it as such for a few years?

 A: No. A Vacation Lodging unit must be actively utilized for Guest Lodging purposes during a majority of the year or it may risk non-renewal.

Q:  I own an apartment building. Can I register multiple apartment dwellings for Guest Lodging?

A:   Possibly. The use of apartment dwellings as Vacation Lodging within a single parcel or common development is restricted to the greater of one Guest Lodging unit or up to 10% of the total number of units located within a parcel or common development.

Q:  Can I register multiple apartment dwellings on a single Guest Lodging license application form?

A:   No. Each Guest Lodging dwelling unit requires a separate application and license.

Q:  Is Vacation Lodging permitted on the ground floor of a mixed-use building?

A:   No. Within a commercial or mixed-use building, Vacation Lodging is not permitted on the ground floor.

Q: What information must be provided to guests?

A:   Each Guest Lodging unit must have its license displayed in a prominent location inside the dwelling near the front door. The license will include:

1) the name and contact information of the property owner;
2) the type of license and license number; and
3) the occupancy limits and parking requirements set forth in the license.



Q: Do I need a Guest Lodging license to advertise?

A:   Yes. It is unlawful to advertise a Guest Lodging unit without a current Guest Lodging license.

Q: What needs to be included in a Guest Lodging online listing?

A:   All Guest Lodging advertisements, marketing materials, and online listings must conform to the terms of the Guest Lodging license. Advertising not in conformity with the license is grounds for revocation, suspension, denial, or non-renewal of a license. Any violation of the provisions of the Guest Lodging code may also be enforced as a municipal infraction by the Enforcement Officer with the penalty for the first violation set at $500.



Q: Is Guest Lodging subject to Hotel / Motel Occupancy Taxes?

A:   Yes. Guest Lodging is subject to both City and State Hotel / Motel Occupancy Taxes.
  • Ames - 7%
  • Iowa - 5%

Q: How are Hotel / Motel Occupancy Taxes collected?

A:   Some online platforms may include the collection and payment of taxes on behalf of a host directly to the State of Iowa, however the responsibility of remitting taxes appropriately and as required by law remains with the property owner as the licensee.

At time of renewal, a receipt must be provided indicating that required taxes for the previous year have been paid pursuant to Ames Taxation Ordinance, Section 24.3.



Q: When do Guest Lodging licenses expire?

A:   Guest Lodging licenses expire after one year. Renewal applications should be submitted with time to allow for processing – at least 30-days prior to the license expiration. If the renewal application is not submitted with sufficient time for processing, the current license may expire before the renewal is approved. Guest Lodging may not occur without a license, even if a renewal is in process.

Q: What happens if my Guest Lodging license expires?

A:   You must stop operations until such time as a subsequent license has been granted for that unit. It is illegal to operate without a current Guest Lodging license. Properties subject to the 1000-foot separation requirement run the risk of losing the ability to be licensed should any lapse in licensure occur.



Q: What is the Appeal process for a Revocation or Denial of a Guest Lodging license?

A:   A licensee or applicant may appeal the Enforcement Officer’s decision to deny, suspend, or revoke a license. Appeals must be submitted to the City Clerk in writing, within 30 days under the procedures set forth in the Zoning Ordinance, Section 29.1403(8). The Zoning Board of Adjustment will review all appeals



Q: How might the public verify whether a Guest Lodging unit is operating lawfully?

A:   Contact Administrative Services at (515) 239-5400 or (515) 239-5153 to verify that a property owner is operating with a Guest Lodging license.

Q: How do I file a complaint about the operation of a Guest Lodging unit?

A:   Complaints may be filed by contacting the City of Ames Inspections Division at (515) 239-5153 or Inspections staff will review the submitted complaint and contact the property owner to discuss the next steps.



Q: Who can I contact to answer a question not in this FAQ?

A:   For questions concerning planning and zoning requirements, such as those pertaining to the Special Use Permit process and Guest Lodging licensing, please contact the City of Ames Planning & Housing Department at (515) 239-5400.

For questions concerning Letter of Compliance requirements, please contact the City of Ames Inspections Division at (515) 239-5153.