Rethinking the Rules on Short-Term Rentals

By The Pilot

In the past four years, we have taken the position – twice – that regulation of short-term rental housing is impractical and too difficult to execute. As recently as this past March, in fact, we said that “on balance, regulation is folly.”

Lately, we’ve been reconsidering this position, especially in light of the growing number of available rentals popping up on internet sites like vrbo.com and airbnb.com. These locations offer everything from one of those unique round houses at the edge of Lake Pinehurst – $65 a night – to the historic Thistle Dhu mansion in Pinehurst. It sleeps 12 and comes with copious amenities – for a mere $1,200 a night.

That grand property fell on hard times in recent years, landing in bankruptcy court. A couple bought the home and intended it for a bed-and-breakfast inn, but the village thwarted that plan, forcing them to sell it. A few years later, the same home, privately owned, is, basically the very thing the village and neighbors didn’t want.

If There’s a Will, There’s a Way

This is not a problem particular to Pinehurst. As a resort community that thrives on golf and seasonal visitors, we have a large number of properties available for rent. Some of them play by the rules and pay their share of the occupancy tax and are good neighbors. But others live in gray legal areas, taking advantage of loopholes and a regulatory environment that doesn’t know what to do or how to do it.

Not surprisingly, our towns and villages are frustrated and looking for solutions, to which we now say: We’re with you.

Some of southern Moore’s elected leaders got together recently and talked over this very issue. Municipal attorneys have long said there’s little that can be done by way of regulation. The homes, they say, are privately owned, and the owners can do with their homes what they wish – and good luck enforcing zoning laws.

But what they learned is that, of six other North Carolina cities that have dealt with this issue, five have passed some regulations that help bring some sanity to the issue. For instance, in Asheville, such short-term rentals are banned in all but “resort” districts and not permitted as a “use by right” in other areas. Homeowners have to apply for a conditional zoning permit because such rentals are not considered “residential” in nature. And there are $500 per day fines for violations.

Protecting Our Neighborhoods

So our towns could amend their zoning laws. Some towns that allow short-term rentals adopted regulations that require a certain number of parking spaces per rented bedrooms, or may require general liability insurance for short-term rentals, or a permit application and floor plan to be filed with the fire marshal, or whether an on-site host is required.

Making rules, of course, is not the same as enforcing them, and that’s where the real work occurs. The two main short-term rental websites list about 200 homes in southern Moore.

This is not about punishing homeowners or “protecting” resorts. It’s about fairness – if you’re going to run a rental business, you should act like a business and pay appropriate taxes. It’s about preserving the quality, character and dignity of neighborhoods.

Putting parameters around short-term rentals is bound to upset some, especially those who think they have a decent little side business going. But if a traditional inn like Thistle Dhu in a residential neighborhood was not acceptable before, a non-traditional, technology-driven Thistle Dhu should be no different.

It’s time for our towns to take a deeper look at this and find a fair solution.

This article provided by NewsEdge.