In big cities and small towns all over the country (and beyond), debates rage over short-term rentals. The issue pits neighbor against neighbor and property owners against regulatory agencies.
Why do so short-term rentals create so much controversy? Here are three of the most common issues raised by those who demand strict regulations or, in some cases, outright bans.
1. “Short-term rentals disturb residents”
How would you feel about successive waves of people with suitcases coming and going to the house or apartment next door? As one San Diego resident wrote: “Uneasy questions abound: How will these strangers conduct themselves? Will they maintain and respect the tranquility of our neighborhoods, or are they just here for a good time …?”
It’s true that most short-term guests are quiet, polite, and careful not to disturb their host’s neighbors. But not all. The local NBC station in Arlington, VA reported “….cases of renters trashing the homes they’re staying in, or throwing massive parties….” even, according to one unhappy Arlington resident, “… full-sized tour buses parked in the driveway.”
A Hawaii resident, put it this way: “….This is a regular neighborhood, with regular people working regular jobs. This particular vacation rental home is large — yippee, the more the merrier — and it’s advertised to sleep lots of people using … rollaways, blowups, pullouts, and futons ….’”
Even though I’m one of those oft-maligned short-term rental hosts myself, I’d be upset, too. The problem is that too many hosts and managers don’t know or care who they rent to and have no interest in how guests use the property.
2. “Short-term rentals reduce the value of our homes”
According to an article in REALTOR Magazine, “A single-family home or condo unit next door to a short-term rental … will take longer to sell and bring in lower offers.” In the the Voice of San Diego, one writer expressed the concern that “If sellers are now required to disclose to buyers even barking dogs and antagonistic neighbors, surely they will have to disclose the existence of commercial rental activity in the neighborhood.”
However, some realtors believe that, “In areas where STRs are accepted or encouraged, and neighbors aren’t hostile to it, a home with “rentable” features might actually sell for more…”
So the jury is still out.
3. “More short-term rentals mean less affordable long-term housing”
Is the proliferation of short-term rentals having a real impact on the availability of affordable long-term housing? It’s possible. According to one blogger, “The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy said in 2015 that the city was losing 11 rental units per day, and estimated that as a result of fewer units for lease, area rents had increased by $464 million.”
In some places at least, it seems that the transformation of dwelling units into short-term rentals has led to higher rents and made permanent housing more difficult to find. HostCompliance.com reports that, “Stories about tenants being evicted from their apartment, only later finding out they were making way for permanent short-term vacation rentals, are starting to pop up in places all over the United States.”
Lawmakers are paying attention
What should lawmakers do? There’s no question that they are sitting up and taking notice. Many large cities, including San Francisco and New York, have enacted strict regulations limiting or even prohibiting short-term rentals.
This scene from a Washington post article article is only one example of what’s happening all over the country: “A bill introduced by council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) would make it illegal for District property owners to post multiple addresses for short-term rent. It would also drastically curtail the number of days that a homeowner could rent an entire property … to as few as 15 days in a single year.”
Property owners are fighting back
Short-term rental sites like Airbnb, as well as short-term rental hosts themselves, are continuing to challenge restrictive laws. While not denying the need for a certain amount of regulation, they argue that short-term rentals not only benefit hosts, but provide increased revenue in the form of licensing fees, taxes, and the cash that short-term visitors spend in the community.
Still, it’s the property owners who benefit the most: according to one writer in the resort community of Lake Tahoe: “At the core of the issue is the fact that vacation renting … can be a much more lucrative opportunity than renting to full-time residents. [according to a] Sacramento Business Journal article….a six-bedroom South Lake Tahoe property pulled in $219,780 last year ….”
The short-term rental controversy continues
There are good arguments on both sides of the short-term rental controversy. Property owners want the right to make money and communities want to encourage tourism. Long-term residents want peaceful, quiet, safe places to live.
Heated discussions about short-term rentals are not about to go away any time soon. In fact, they are likely to intensify as companies like Airbnb, VRBO, and Trip Advisor make it cheap and easy for multi-property owners to reel in customers. It only takes one remote host accepting an “instant booking” from a “guest” who uses the rental as a party pad to inflame a neighborhood.
What’s important to note is that complaints fueling the controversy generally stem primarily not from individual hosts (like myself) who rent out their home or second home occasionally to carefully screened guests, but from, in the words of one opinion writer, “absentee investors who see profits where the rest of us just see home.”
I completely agree. And I see a very rough road ahead.
What experiences have you had with short-term rentals, as a host, a guest, or a neighbor? Please share your ideas for addressing this thorny issue.