Raleigh is con­sid­er­ing list of rules for Airbnb rentals

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ANNA JOHN­SON ajohn­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Af­ter two years, Terri Har­mon knew she had fi­nally found the per­fect Raleigh neigh­bor­hood.

She and her hus­band had been look­ing for a quiet street, near work and close to places to shop and eat. But now they’re frus­trated that the house next door was re­cently listed on Airbnb.

Short-term rentals are tech­ni­cally il­le­gal in Raleigh, but city lead­ers agreed to not en­force the ban un­til new reg­u­la­tions could be put in place. But that was years ago and there are now hun­dreds of rooms and homes listed on web­sites like Airbnb and VRBO in Raleigh.

More than 42,000 peo­ple stayed at lo­cal Airbnbs in 2017, but the city has only re­ceived com­plaints about short-term rentals at 37 lo­ca­tions since 2014. Only 23 of those ad­dresses could be sub­stan­ti­ated. There may be more com­plaints, but Raleigh doesn’t track du­pli­cate com­plaints for the same ad­dress.

The Raleigh City Coun­cil has dis­cussed, con­vened task forces and voted on var­i­ous rules through­out the years, but it has never had enough votes to pass new reg­u­la­tions. A coun­cil com­mit­tee took up the task this past week to hear from sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of the short-term rentals and de­bate a new set of rules.

Some elected lead­ers wanted to end the Airbnb saga by year’s end, but the coun­cil com­mit­tee won’t meet again un­til Jan­uary.

RALEIGH’S NEW PRO­POSED RULES

In sev­eral ways, Raleigh’s new draft rules mir­ror those of Asheville, which bans short-term rentals across most of the city. One Asheville res­i­dent has more

than $1 mil­lion in fines for il­le­gal Airbnbs, ac­cord­ing to the Asheville Ci­ti­zenTimes.

Un­der Raleigh’s pro­posed rules, only two bed­rooms or guest rooms could be rented out and a res­i­dent would have to live at the house dur­ing the rental.

Peo­ple who want to rent out their homes would pay a $208 fee and neigh­bors within 100 feet of the prop­erty would be no­ti­fied, at the would-be op­er­a­tor’s ex­pense. No kitchen ap­pli­ances would be al­lowed in those rooms, but the rules could be amended to al­low a cof­fee maker or mini-fridge. And guests would be lim­ited to two adults, with only four adults al­lowed in the house, in­clud­ing peo­ple who live there.

But there are still sev­eral things the coun­cil com­mit­tee and, even­tu­ally the coun­cil, must de­cide, in­clud­ing off-street park­ing, whether back­yard cot­tages could be used, and whether ad­ja­cent prop­er­ties could both get ap­proval for short-term rentals.. Coun­cil lead­ers will also have to de­cide if per­mits should be is­sued on a first-come, first­served ba­sis or by lot­tery.

A WHOLE HOUSE? OR JUST A ROOM?

Missing from the draft rules is the abil­ity for peo­ple to rent out their en­tire home.

That’s an ob­vi­ous stick­ing point for peo­ple who have rental prop­er­ties solely for short-term rentals but also for po­ten­tial guests who like stay­ing in places with­out other peo­ple.

Steve Rehn­borg, a fre­quent Airbnb cus­tomer, hates when he tries to get set­tled into a new place and some­one tries to talk to him.

“I’m try­ing to do work be­cause I’ve been trav­el­ing and all I want to do is stare at a wall, and now some­one’s ‘Hey, how was your flight? Do you want break­fast? Do you want this? Do you want that?,” he said. “It’s less to me about should we do one bed­room ver­sus two and the reg­u­la­tions around that.”

It’s more im­por­tant, he said, to in­clude whole­house rental rules.

One com­pro­mise that Mayor Nancy McFarlane has sug­gested is al­low­ing peo­ple to rent out their en­tire home for a few weeks or months out of the year. But coun­cil mem­ber Stef Men­dell won­ders how such rules would be en­forced.

Crit­ics fear ab­sen­tee land­lords will snatch up mod­estly priced homes and turn them into whole­house rentals for Airbnb, re­duc­ing the num­ber of af­ford­able homes in cer­tain ar­eas. Lim­it­ing whole­house rentals to a few weeks or months should pro­vide enough fi­nan­cial dis­in­cen­tive to not hurt af­ford­able hous­ing, McFarlane said.

‘JUST FELT LIKE HOME’

Af­ter liv­ing in Apex and Wake For­est, Har­mons’ north­west Raleigh neigh­bor­hood “felt like home” from the be­gin­ning.

Af­ter she and her hus­band moved in eight years ago, she said: “Some neigh­bors brought over a whole chicken with pa­per plates and forks and bunch of other neigh­bors in­tro­duced them­selves. Some of them just helped us un­load our mov­ing truck. We were like ‘this is amaz­ing.’ ”

When the home next to theirs sold in May, Har­mon and other neigh­bors said they greeted the new­com­ers the same way. They were told by the new own­ers that they wanted to move in be­fore by the end of the year.

The three-bed­room house went up on Airbnb some­time in Au­gust.

Guests can pay $119 per night to stay in the home that can ac­com­mo­date 10 peo­ple. The Airbnb list­ing touts its lo­ca­tion in one of Raleigh’s “most pop­u­lar and safest ar­eas” and “15 minute (drive) to down­town Raleigh and trendy Six Forks en­ter­tain­ment dis­trict.”

The prop­erty is reg­is­tered to Alan Bern­stein, whose ad­dress is in Mon­rovia, Calif. Ef­forts to reach Bern­stein through an Airbnb mes­sage were un­suc­cess­ful.

Har­mon said the neigh­bors’ big­gest com­plaint is the num­ber of guests and cars block­ing drive­ways or pre­vent­ing res­i­dents from park­ing on the street. They’re also concerned about noise, their prop­erty val­ues and that guests’ dogs re­lieve them­selves on her lawn and go un­leashed. Neigh­bors have put up signs that read “Say no to Airbnb in our neigh­bor­hood.”

Men­dell plans to ask the city at­tor­ney’s of­fice if there’s a way to help the res­i­dents on Con­nell Drive be­cause of the coun­cil’s years of in­ac­tion.

“That doesn’t leave much re­course for those peo­ple who are liv­ing next to a re­ally hor­ren­dous sit­u­a­tion,” she said. “I think all of us would like to get some­thing re­solved and on the books. It takes a long time to get peo­ple on the same page and get a com­pro­mise. So I don’t know how long this is go­ing to drag on but I don’t think it’s fair to the peo­ple who live next to th­ese bad ac­tors.”

HELP­ING PAY THE BILLS

Let­ting peo­ple rent one or two rooms out of their homes makes sense, Men­dell said, but rent­ing out an en­tire home con­cerns her.

“If you can rent your house for $1,000 per month or $1,000 per week, I think a lot of peo­ple are go­ing to choose [to open an] Airbnb,” she said. “That leaves peo­ple search­ing for an af­ford­able place squeezed out.”

But fans of short-term rentals ar­gue they help prop­erty own­ers af­ford to stay in their homes. And they can be cheaper than stay­ing in a tra­di­tional ho­tel.

“I have two young kids who are in day­care now and, frankly, [Airbnb] is a hous­ing-af­ford­abil­ity so­lu­tion for our fam­ily,” said Mary Sell. “It pro­vides the abil­ity for us to meet ex­penses and pay for our kids to go to day­care.”

It was a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion for Cyn­thia Deis, who has three Airbnb list­ings. She was able to cut down the num­ber of days and hours she worked and switch to a dif­fer­ent job while mak­ing up the lost in­come through the rental prop­er­ties. It also gives her more time to spend with ag­ing fam­ily mem­bers and cre­ate re­la­tion­ships with guests who come to stay.

The typ­i­cal Raleigh Airbnb host makes $5,000 a year. Her rentals were some of the first in the city. Now Raleigh has a ma­jor­ity – 640 – of Wake County’s 890 Airbnb hosts, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

VIS­IT­ING RALEIGH AU­THEN­TI­CALLY

In ad­di­tion to the money, web­sites like Airbnb give vis­i­tors a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence a Raleigh neigh­bor­hood and com­mu­nity in an au­then­tic way, Deis said.

She points to one of her cur­rent guests, a woman vis­it­ing from Scot­land to write a book about North Carolina, as some­one who would rather stay in a home or room in­stead of a ho­tel. Other guests have re­stric­tions and are un­able to stay in tra­di­tional lodg­ing.

Dur­ing Tues­day’s City Coun­cil meet­ing she spoke of a fam­ily with two chil­dren who needed a place to stay with a kitchen dur­ing the fi­nal days of a fam­ily mem­ber’s life.

“They stayed re­ally the last six weeks of her life,” Deis said. “And they were here to spend as much time as they could with her. They needed a place that wasn’t a ho­tel room. We had con­ver­sa­tions where they said ‘we couldn’t do this in a ho­tel room.’ One child had se­vere food al­ler­gies so I did ex­ten­sive prep in the kitchen to make sure the place was ready for them. But also if you’re trav­el­ing with a baby and tod­dler a ho­tel room is the worse place ever.”

In her years of host­ing she said she’s only had one prob­lem that af­fected her neigh­bors. A group of men were on the porch, drink­ing whiskey, be­ing loud and smok­ing cigars. A dif­fer­ent Airbnb guest texted her and she went over to ask them to quiet down.

“That is lit­er­ally the only in­ci­dent in all of my time,” she said. “And I took care of it very quickly. I have other in­ci­dents as a host but they were things that af­fected me and not my neigh­bor­hood. There have been mul­ti­ple times where a guest has burned a pan and hid­den them in cab­i­nets.”

If Raleigh does ban short-term rentals, Deis said it will per­pet­u­ate the stereo­type that South­ern cities aren’t wel­com­ing to all peo­ple.

“If we don’t have Airbnb it’s go­ing to make Raleigh just look bad,” she said. “I mean are we re­ally go­ing to try to at­tract tech jobs and be this ‘one of the great­est places to live in the coun­try’ if we can’t even al­low Airbnb?”

IF WE DON’T HAVE AIRBNB IT’S GO­ING TO MAKE RALEIGH JUST LOOK BAD.

Cyn­thia Deis, who has three Airbnb list­ings

ANNA JOHN­SON ajohn­[email protected]­sob­server.com

A home in the 4000 block of Con­nell Drive that’s now an Airbnb is a point of con­tention with neigh­bors.

VIRIGINIA BRIDGES [email protected]­sob­server.com

Al­lyn Mered­ith stands in the room she rents out in Durham on the Airbnb on­line plat­form. Mered­ith has been an Airbnb host since Novem­ber 2011.

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