Members of City Council concluded on Aug. 27 that a revision to Asheville’s ordinance regulating homestay short-term rentals wasn’t fully baked and sent it back for more time in the oven. In a 5-2 vote, with Council members Vijay Kapoor and Keith Young dissenting, the officials asked city staff to clarify the relationship between a proposed change in the city’s definition of a kitchen and the use of accessory dwelling units as homestays.
The awkward-sounding term “accessory dwelling unit” encompasses residences that are secondary to a main home including garage apartments, mother-in-law suites, basement apartments and standalone structures like cottages. In June 2016, Asheville City Council loosened restrictions on ADUs in an effort to increase long-term housing stock in the city. That same year, Council voted against allowing ADUs to be used for short-term rentals, including homestays.
Despite that decision, Zoning Administrator Shannon Tuch said that some homeowners modify ADUs by removing distinguishing features, such as kitchen sinks and full-sized refrigerators to comply with homestay regulations. The proposed amendment would have continued to forbid stoves in homestay dwellings but allow sinks and refrigerators. Other changes bundled with the kitchen rule would stipulate that homestay operators must be at least 18 and remove the requirement for operators to provide proof of residency unless “deemed necessary” by city staff.
The new regulation would not affect whole-home STRs, which remain banned (with some exceptions) within Asheville city limits. According to Tuch, the amendment also would not impact laws surrounding ADUs but would make it easier for homestay operators to comply with city rules and also provide them with greater flexibility in the use of their property.
“I mean, right now, today, people are converting accessory dwelling units into homestays, detached and attached,” Tuch said. “What this proposed change does is that it makes it easier, because now we’ve simplified what constitutes a kitchen, and so you just remove a stove, whereas before they had to dismantle more than just the stove.”
Tuch also echoed the findings of a staff report by saying that the change would likely result in more ADUs becoming available to rent short-term within the city limits. The change could allow residents to use extra space for short- or long-term rental, depending on changing circumstances, Tuch said.
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler said that while she supported updating the kitchen definition, more clarification is needed to ensure that detached ADUs are not converted for short-term use.
“I have to say, I realize I am on the PED committee, but I had not focused on that this is going to allow detached accessory dwelling units to more easily be converted to homestays,” Wisler said. “Could we amend this to include a standard that prohibits a detached structure from becoming a homestay? If we can’t amend that, then I’m not going to be able to vote for it.”
“We loosened up the regulations around the construction of accessory dwelling units to make infill dwelling units easier to build in the city, because it is a solution that cities across the nation are looking at as a way to alleviate the pressure on the long-term rental market,” added Mayor Esther Manheimer.
“I’d like to see us go back to the purity of the homestay definition which is in your home. Whether you’re a long-term renter or a homeowner, you can rent up to two bedrooms in your home,” Manheimer continued.
Homestay Network organizer Jackson Tierney collaborated with city staff and online short-term rental platforms to develop the proposed kitchen change, Manheimer noted. She maintained that loosening restrictions on the kinds of units that can be offered to short-term visitors would counter the city’s efforts to provide housing for permanent residents.
Citing reports that Asheville has either the highest or second-highest proportion of short-term rentals to units of permanent housing stock of any city in the country, as well as efforts by Airbnb and others to advocate for new state laws that would prohibit North Carolina cities from regulating short-term rentals, Manheimer said efforts to minimize the negative effects of the vacation rental boom should continue.
“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” she said. “I’m very glad we’ve moved to quickly get on top of this issue when we did. I think we would be in a much worse situation now if we didn’t.”