Resident opinion on short-term rentals as varied as rentals themselves

Divided opinions: residents gave their opinions for about three hours to City Council during a short term rental forum March 25. Opinions were split on whether short term rentals are good for Asheville and its residents. Photo by Pat Barcas

One commenter at the March 24 public forum on short-term rentals in Asheville likened outlawing the practice to the war on drugs, or teaching teenagers abstinence to prevent pregnancy — people are going to do it anyways, so you might as well embrace it and regulate it.

About 150 residents, visitors, bed-and-breakfast owners, and people who rent out their houses to tourists on travel sites such as airbnb.com flooded the conference room of the U.S. Cellular Center to voice opinions to the City Council on possibly moving forward with short-term rental regulations in Asheville.

The city currently doesn’t generally allow fewer than 30-day, short-term rentals in residential zoning districts, but it only enforces the ordinance through a complaint system, meaning many homeowners openly rent their homes or rooms.

There are currently 868 rentals listed in the greater Asheville area on airbnb.com.

“People don’t understand that STRs are the wild west,” said Debbie Applewhite, a resident. “We don’t have regulations. Suitcases make lousy neighbors.”

Other complaints stemmed from visitors who gather at home rentals in neighborhoods. They may be college friends reuniting, a wedding party kicking off festivities or groups of families getting together in Asheville.

Residents who spoke at the meeting said parties such as these are people on vacation and act as such — drinking late into the night on weekdays, coming and going frequently to sightsee and bringing multiple vehicles that crowd streets. The owners may not even live in the state.

The city does not collect sales and lodging taxes for short-term rentals, and homes are not subject to inspections as hotels are. If a property owner receives a complaint about illegally renting a home for less than 30 days, the city’s Development Services staff verifies the complaint. A violation notice is made, and if renting is not ceased, the fine is $100 per day.

Many other speakers championed being able to rent out their homes or rooms, saying it allows them the income to live in Asheville, it actually makes their neighborhood safer, and the money visitors save by renting ends up being spent locally at bars and restaurants.

“From my experience, there have been no complaints from neighbors,” said Jeff Kilpatrick, who lives next door to a renter. “They are no more problematic than having a full-time neighbor.”

Alicia Kaiser rents out her home to maintain occupancy while she travels. She describes her neighborhood as “transitional,” with many vacant houses on the block. Her neighbor had her house broken into, and the burglar took the resident’s cell phone on the way out.

“She had no phone, she ran across the street to my house, the only one nearby that was occupied, to call for help,” said Kaiser.

Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods spokesperson Barbara Melton said further regulation is the answer.

“Let’s put reasonable regulations in place. Make it permitted, fund an inspector to go out once a year, make sure these properties have commercial insurance, and neighbors, make the effort to integrate this,” she said. “We’re not going to become a smaller city, we’re seeing the growth. Let’s get something on the books that’s enforceable. Don’t drive renting further underground.”

Mayor Esther Manheimer said this forum was just the beginning of what could lead to further decisions by Council members at future meetings. There is also the possibility that any future Council decision about short-term rentals could be superseded by state legislation.

“This is purely a listening session for us as a Council today,” she said.

 

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About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at pbarcas@gmail.com. Follow me @pbarcas

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