Communities in towns and cities large and small are hotly debating short-term rentals. Residents on both sides of the debate crowd into city council meetings and send angry letters to local newspapers. The issue pits neighbor against neighbor and property owners against regulatory agencies.
Why do so many people hate short-term rentals? Here are three of the reasons most often cited by those who are demanding strict regulation and even outright bans.
Reason #1. Short-term rentals disrupt residential neighborhoods and buildings
At the least, residents feel uncomfortable with waves of strangers coming and going in their neighborhood or building. A San Diego resident put it this way: “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 …?”
For most of these people, it’s a little more than being uneasy. The vast majority of short-term guests live quietly and respect their host’s neighbors. But not all. According to the local NBC station in Arlington, VA, “….there have been cases of renters trashing the homes they’re staying in, or throwing massive parties…. ‘There’s been full-sized tour buses parked in the driveway,’ said Arlington resident Nicole Baronick.”
A writer from Hawaii, put it this way: “’We are the lucky neighbors of a vacation rental home ….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 ….’”
Those neighbors have good reason to be upset. Far too many short-term rentals are run by remote hosts and managers who don’t know or care who they rent to or how the guests use the property. In the worst cases, “guests” turn their short-term rental into a money-maker by renting to other “guests” or even using the home as a party pad.
Reason #2. Short-term rentals lower property values
Many homeowners express concern that too many short-term rentals will reduce the value of their homes.
According to an opinion piece in the Voice of San Diego, “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.”
In fact, a 2015 article in REALTOR Magazine stated that “A single-family home or condo unit next door to a short-term rental — where the occupants change every few days — will take longer to sell and bring in lower offers.”
But the jury is still out. According to some realtors, “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…”
Reason #3. Short-term rentals lead to a decrease in long-term housing
Some of the loudest voices against the proliferation of short-term rentals point to the impact on available, affordable housing, especially in urban areas. 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, the transformation of houses and apartments 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.”
How lawmakers are responding
Lawmakers in cities and towns across the country (all over the world, in fact) 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.
One Washington post article describes a scene being enacted 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.”
The view from the other side
In many places, property owners and short-term rental sites like Airbnb are challenging restrictive laws. While not denying the need for regulation, they argue that short-term rentals benefit both property owners and the community. They are a source of revenue in the form of taxes, and the money short-term visitors spend benefits the local economy.
But the primary benefit goes to the property owner, as voiced in a Lake Tahoe newsletter: “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 ….”
What’s the answer?
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.
The complaints that fuel the controversy appear to stem primarily not from individuals who rent out their home or second home but from, in the words of one opinion writer, “absentee investors who see profits where the rest of us just see home.”
This controversy is not about to go away any time soon. In fact, the tug and war over regulations is likely to intensify as websites 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.
As an individual homeowner who relies on renting out my home once in a while to help pay for travel and keep it occupied when I’m away, I see a very rough road ahead.
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